Hefeweizen & Citrus

hefe and citrus This pairing shouldn’t be a surprise to American drinkers. Although it may be common to add an orange or lemon wedge to a glass of wheat beer here, it’s not typically done across the pond in Germany where the classic style has its roots. While I’m not going to say there is a “right” way to drink any beer, there are certainly ideals and reasons why things are done the way they are.

Adding citrus into your hefeweizen will drastically alter the delicate balance of flavors present. And ideally, the original unaltered flavors are already a finished product worthy of consuming alone. However, I fully endorse the food pairing of citrus with hefeweizen, especially with a variety of different types: blood oranges, grapefruit, navels, mandarins, kumquats. When you eat and then drink, you get to fully experience both products and their respective interplay. When you want an unpaired taste, just take a bite or have a swig of beer. You’re back to a different set of tastes.

The magic of this pairing is that it combines seasons. Citrus is best and freshest in winter, and hefeweizen is a style usually thought of as warm-weather, a quaffable and refreshing beverage in the heat. In Germany wheat beers are consumed year-round in regions where they’re produced, of course, and some American craft brewers keep a wheat beer on their regular lineup. If you’re fatigued with the heavier, rich winter beers like stouts, barley wines and brown ales, then this is the antidote. Take a little ball of sunshine and eat alongside a glass of refreshing, sunny ale.

Three Reasons Why This Pairing Works

  1. Common flavors. Many wheat beers, whether classic hefeweizen styles or not, have a light lemon or citrus note. Some may actually have orange or orange peel added to the fermentation tank. In this case, similar flavors serve to showcase the differences between. That is to say, your orange will taste more complex, and your wheat beer will taste more interesting.  
  2. Acidity. Citrus has varying levels of acid, but it’s a prominent element. Wheat beers and hefeweizens are often rather rounded and smooth, with their low levels of hop bitterness and fruity flavors from the included yeast. Essentially, the acid in citrus can help balance a hefeweizen’s overall character, and vice versa: a wheat beer may cut some of the acidic harshness of citrus.
  3. Bitterness. Some oranges have quite mild flavors, but many heirloom or juicing types also have a bitterness, especially if you leave any pith on the interior, or if you cut through the peel to make a segment. Orange oil is intensely bitter, and as we know, beer and bitterness are good friends. Hefeweizens are a low-bitterness style, but when a little side-note of bitterness is perceived, you can taste the malt and yeast esters differently. It’s an experiment, give it a go!