There was a time, in those heady craft beer days of yore, when seemingly every American brewery was producing a “wheat beer.” Those crisp but unfiltered beers largely fell into the “American pale wheat ale” category, and were consummate brewpub staples, along with the likes of amber ale, American pale ales and brown ales. You couldn’t visit a Midwestern brewpub in the early 2000s without finding a “wheat ale” on tap, probably served with a lemon wedge plunked into it.
Today, as with so many other styles, the use of wheat in craft brewing has evolved. The American pale wheat ale is still a valid style, typified by the likes of Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat or Bell’s Oberon, but it’s not nearly as universal as it once was. German-style hefeweizens have come on strong in American brewing, partially supplanting beers that were once made with cleaner fermenting American ale yeast. Fruited wheats have long been popular, as brewers use the relatively mild flavor profile of American pale wheat ales as a blank canvas to work with raspberry, blueberry, mango, watermelon and dozens of others. Hoppy wheats have grown in popularity, sometimes blurring the line between true wheat ales and wheated session IPAs. And of course, wheat beers have been hugely affected by the rise of sour beer styles in America, as the vintage German beer style of Berliner weisse received a popular American makeover typified by strongly tart beers.
5. Funky Buddha Floridian
City: Oakland Park, FL
The verdict: Among the top hefeweizens, it’s interesting to note the specific flavor notes that stand out as signatures of each. For example, where the Weihenstephaner is more strongly redolent in the clove-like phenols, Funky Budda’s Floridian leans the other direction into the banana-esque esters. The overall character is a bit “banana bread”—probably not quite as much as the earlier mentioned Brew Kettle beer, but in the same vein. A touch of honey-like sweetness makes a pleasant counterpoint to bready malt, which reminds one of say, an English muffin at breakfast. Some bubblegum fruitiness adds complexity, in what is just a superior American hefeweizen (in the German style) all around. An excellent beer.