You might recall a recent article I wrote for The Brew Club regarding my attendance at the 2009 International Beer Challenge. At that event Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier was crowned supreme champion, the second time in six years that the Weihenstephan beer has won the overall title.
While I’m sceptical of beer awards (heck Beer Chang won a gold medal at the 2008 World Beer Championships in Chicago) Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier’s two wins in six years against some VERY impressive competition meant that I simply had to try and find a few bottles.
Weihenstephan (the name means ‘the hill of Holy St. Stephen ‘) in Freising, Bavaria claims to be the oldest brewery in the world, tracing its origins to the year 725 AD when a group of Irish Benedictine monks (Saint Corbinian with twelve companions), founded a monastery on Nährberg Hill, Freising.
Historical records in 768 AD show a local hop garden being required to pay a tithe of ten per cent to the monastery so it’s reasonable to assume that they were using those hops for the purposes of brewing.
The actual Weihenstephan brewery traces its records back to 1040 AD when the town of Freising was granted the rights to brew – this is the basis of the brewery’s claim to be the oldest brewery in the world, or as the Bavarians would have it “Ältester Brauerei der Welt”.
That’s close to a thousand years of brewing, which you have to concede is pretty darn impressive.
The monastery was secularised in 1815 and control of the brewery passed to the Bavarian royal family, they lasted until the end of the First World War when the brewery passed to the state government, it is now officially known as the “Bayersiche Staatsbraurerei” – the Bavarian State Brewery. In recent years the brewery has been absorbed into the “Weihenstephan Science Center of Munich’s University of Applied Sciences” this gives an unique combination of the traditions of the ancient brewery with cutting-edge science.
The Hefeweissbier is the most widely available of the brewery’s impressive range of twelve beers, and while I wouldn’t normally indulge in wheat beers in late October we have been enjoying a very mellow Indian summer here in the UK.
As you can see from the photo the Weihenstephan pours with a full, rich head that takes quite a while to subside, atop a rich, almost orangey, honey coloured brew.
The glass by the way is the beautiful Falkensteiner glass – probably my favourite wheat beer glass, a true work of art and one I reserve for special occasions. I haven’t seen Falkensteiner over here for about ten years.
Back to the Weihenstephan, the nose is as you would expect, with hints of clove hiding behind the lemon, orange-peel and banana.
A first sip and you find the beer to be pleasantly full bodied, not chewy by any means, but more challenging than many lighter wheat beers.
As for the flavour, well yes, there’s banana, honey, cloves and coriander, together with the merest hint of bubblegum! There’s malt lurking in there as well, giving a satisfying roundness that balances the spicy attack.
The taste is so wonderfully complex it puts many wheat beers to shame.
Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier is brewed to a very respectable 5.4% and is listed in Roger Protz’s book of 300 Beers to Try Before You Die!. I agree, and for once I am 100% behind the beer judges, this is without doubt a wonderful beer, and the yardstick against which I will measure wheat beers in future.
For the future, it was recently announced that the Weihenstephan brewery has teamed up with Sam Adams to use their combined expertise and innovation to produce a new 10% ABV beer in the spring of 2010 that aims to “…explore the limits of the Reinheitsgebot and to brew a beer that represents the platinum standard in the art of brewing.” I for one can’t wait.
And as for the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, well I’ll give it 5 stars without hesitation. I have a new favourite wheat beer.
I have a new favourite Wheat Beer, which is yours?