How To Brew an Authentic German Hefeweizen

German Hefeweizen

The German Hefeweizen, or Weissbier, is a pale, refreshing German wheat beer. It is infamous for its fluffy mouthfeel and distinctive banana and clove flavors. This recipe is a little more difficult than most that we have covered, but when it is made correctly, it is absolutely worth it. The ingredients are straightforward, but you will notice most of the differences in the process – mainly mashing and fermentation. The style guidelines are below.

  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.053
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.014
  • Alcohol by Volume: 4.3% – 5.6%
  • Bitterness: 8 – 15 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 2 – 6

German Hefeweizen Ingredients

Malt

The German Hefeweizen has a relatively simple grain bill consisting of a 60/40 split between wheat malt and pilsner malt respectively. If you want a slightly higher toasty, bready character, I would consider splitting the pilsner malt with Munich malt in a 20/20 split.

With such a high percentage of wheat malt, I highly recommend adding rice hulls. The wheat malt does not have the husk that malted barley does, so without the enhanced stability provided by rice hulls, you run a much greater risk of a stuck mash. Add at least 1/2 a pound of rice hulls per 5 gallons.

Hops

For the German Hefeweizen, minimal hops are added. It has a very low to moderately low bitterness with hardly any hop aroma. I add around 12 – 14 IBUs at the 60-minute mark for my sole hop addition. My favorite hops for this style are Hallertau Mittelfruh, but you can’t go wrong with any of the German noble hops. If the German noble hops are unavailable to you, use a hop that promotes clean bitterness such as Liberty, Mt. Hood, or Tradition.

Yeast

Your yeast selection can make or break your Hefeweizen. You want a non-flocculant strain that is POF+ (produces phenolic off-flavors). The intensity of the phenols varies with each strain, so I would make sure you check the description before choosing one. The following are all good choices.

  • Weihenstephan Weizen – Wyeast 3068
    • This strain nicely balances banana esters and clove phenols. Ester production is increased with increased temperature and decreased pitch rate. Overpitching can completely remove banana character.
  • Hefeweizen Ale Yeast – WLP300
    • This strain tends to be more banana-forward with lesser clove.
  • German Wheat – Wyeast 3333-PC
    • This strain is highly flocculant, so only use it if you are making a Kristallweizen (a clear German Hefeweizen)
    • Produces a delicate balance between banana esters and clove phenolics

Water

Last but not least, the water. For all beers I brew, I use a reverse osmosis filtration system and build up my water profile from scratch. My water profile looked like this:

  • Calcium: 50 ppm
  • Sodium: 5 ppm
  • Sulfates: 55 ppm
  • Chloride: 60 ppm

Recipe

The following is a 5-gallon version of a German Hefeweizen. The numbers for this beer are listed below.

  • Original Gravity: 1.046
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.013
  • Alcohol by Volume: 4.5%
  • Bitterness: 12.2 IBU
  • Color (SRM): 4.5

Grain Bill

  • Rice Hulls – 12 oz
  • Wheat Malt – 5 lbs (59.5%)
  • Pilsner Malt – 1 lb 11.2 oz (20.2%)
  • Munich Malt – 1 lb 11.2 oz (20.2%)

Hops

  • 0.85 oz of Mittelfruh at 60 minutes (12.2 IBU)

Yeast

  • Weihenstephan Weizen – Wyeast 3068

Mash

Mash Schedules

The German Hefeweizen is traditionally brewed using a double-decoction mash. If you do not have the equipment for a decoction mash, then you should at least try to do a step mash. It will be difficult to notice a difference between decoction and step mashing, but you will likely notice something is missing if you do a single infusion mash.

I do not perform a protein rest because the modern wheat malt is modified well enough to not need it. This keeps the protein content high to promote a thick, billowing head. I do, however, utilize a ferulic acid rest at 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45C). At this temperature, ferulic acid is released from arabinoxylane. The POF+ yeast strains we discussed in the yeast section can convert ferulic acid into 4-vinyl guaiacol (4VG). At the correct concentrations, 4VG produces the spicy clove flavors we are looking for. This rest typically lasts between 10 – 25 minutes, with the concentration of 4VG increasing with time. While the clove flavor will increase with a longer ferulic acid rest, the banana esters’ prominence will decrease, so it is important to find the balance that is right for you.

In addition to the ferulic acid rest, I also have a 40-minute rest at 147.2 degrees Fahrenheit (64C) and a 30-minute rest at 162 degrees Fahrenheit (~72C). This schedule lets us hit both alpha-amylase and beta-amylase’s optimal temperature ranges to enhance fermentability to promote a dry finish.

Our 5-Gallon Mashing Profile

I am going to walk through our mashing profile as a step mash, but if you are performing a decoction mash, for each decoction, pull out approximately 1/3 of the thick mash, heat it to 160F for 10 minutes, boil it for 15 minutes, and then reintroduce it back to the mash tun to raise the overall temperature to the next step.

For a multi-step infusion mash, fill your mash tun with 2.9 gallons of water at approximately 123 degrees Fahrenheit. Add any acids and salts you need to adjust your water profile. Mash in and mix well. Maintain a temperature of 113F (45C) for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, raise the temperature up to 147.2F (64C) and hold for 40 minutes. Once your 40-minute rest is complete, raise the temperature to 162F (~72C) and hold for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, raise the mash temperature to 168F (~76C) for mash out. Sparge with 5 gallons of water, or until you reach a pre-boil gravity of 1.040.

Boil

Boil the wort for 90 minutes and add the hops in at 60 minutes. At 10 minutes, I added a yeast nutrient. Once the boil is complete, whirlpool the wort for 10 minutes and then let it wind down for 10 minutes.

Fermentation

Yeast Pitch

This style is most likely going to take you a couple of tries to perfect, and I would be willing to bet that most of the changes you have to make will be regarding fermentation. Many brewers underpitch their Hefeweizen yeast to intentionally stress it. The ratio varies, with some brewers pitching only 50% of their usual rate. The stress is supposed to increase ester formation and enhance banana flavors. I recommend ironing out all the other variables in your brewing process before underpitching by more than 10% of your usual pitch rate. Fermentation temperature, acid rests, and yeast strain selection all greatly impact ester and phenol production. Underpitching by too much can lead to sluggish fermentations and unwanted off-flavors. Just like with any experiment, it is useful to know what variable change leads to what outcome. Tweaking the pitch rate once you have decided upon the best fermentation schedule, mashing profile, and yeast strain will allow you to do just that.

Fermentation Vessel

German Hefeweizens are also typically open-fermented. I have never been able to try open fermentation, but there is a measured increase in phenol and ester production via open fermentation versus conical fermentation. If you want to try open fermentation in a bucket, fill the bucket as high as it is wide and store it in the cleanest part of your house. Even though it is exposed, you don’t want to add any foreign debris. If you are worried about sanitation, loosely cover the bucket until fermentation has started. You should transfer the beer to a secondary vessel as soon as fermentation is complete.

Our Fermentation

Knock the wort out in your heat exchanger so that the pitching temperature is 62 degrees and then measure the gravity and pitch the yeast. Make sure to adequately oxygenate your wort. Initial gravity should be around 1.046. I let this free rise to 65 degrees as fermentation starts. Hold the temperature at 65 degrees for 5-7 days until the specific gravity is 4 points away from terminal gravity, and then let the temperature free-rise up to 72 degrees to finish. Once your fermentation is complete, cold crash to 33 degrees for at least a day and then transfer to the brite tank to carbonate it to a whopping 3.2 – 3.5 vols. If you are bottling, make sure your bottles can withstand this pressure. After 3 days in the brite tank, keg it, and enjoy!

If you decide to try this recipe, or another German Hefeweizen recipe, feel free to leave a comment and let us know how it went! And if you want to see more recipes like this, sign up for our newsletter below to be notified when a new post is released. Cheers!

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