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Bavaria's best advice is -- try the Weiss

Michael Jackson visits Erdinger to taste weiss for all seasons

Anyone who appreciates a good ale is enjoying a fruity complexity of flavours. This derives not so much from the basic raw material barley that has been malted or the seasoning of hop flowers, as it does from the top-fermenting yeasts used in the making of ales (as opposed to the bottom type employed in lagers).

If, though, the barley is augmented with wheat, that raw material will impart a fruitiness right from the start.

Wheat beers also use top-fermenting yeasts (they are not lagers, contrary to widespread belief), and this renders them doubly fruity. Some taste apple-like, and others are reminiscent of plums, or even bananas.

There may be more complexities, too. There is a distinct style to the wheat beers made in South Germany, especially the state of Bavaria, and notably the region to the east of Munich.

The combination of malted wheat and the type of yeasts used by this region's brewers can sometimes make for a spicy, clove-like character.

In Bavaria I have been served the paler, lighter type of wheat beer as a refreshingly tart, acidic, Champagne-like summer refresher, or even as a dessert beer, with elderberry fritters (how about apple pie with cinnamon and cloves?), but there are also darker and stronger versions more suited to autumn and winter.

I have been banging on about South German wheat beers for years, and I am delighted to see that they are becoming more easily available in Britain. The most visible examples are perhaps those from the Erdinger Weissbräu brewery.

Erding is an attractive country town near Munich. The town was originally a ducal seat. It was founded in the late 700s, but most of its present buildings (pastel-coloured and timbered, and punctuated with onion-dome towers) date from the reconstruction in the late 1600s and 1700s, after the 30 years war.

The easiest way to make the journey, of just over 20 miles from Munich, is by the suburban railway (S-Bahn), one of whose lines ends at Erding.

I went this year, during the towns autumn festival, which always starts on the last Friday of August and lasts for 10 days.

The festival is held on parkland conveniently next to the railway station. Behind the fairground attractions stands the customary tent, capable of holding 3,500 people, served by waitresses capable of holding ten litre-sized steins of Erdinger Weissbräu's Festbier. (For the brewery's other wheat beers, it is necessary to walk into the town.)


Weisse, meaning white, is one designation often applied to wheat beers. In the days when most types of beer were dark, wheat brews were seen as being relatively pale and often cloudy.


Weisse, meaning white, is one designation often applied to wheat beers. In the days when most types of beer were dark, wheat brews were seen as being relatively pale and often cloudy.

The term Weissbier may be used. Or, in the Munich area, the colloquialism Weises. Or the label may bear the similar-sounding word Weizen, meaning wheat.

The same brewer may use both terms: sometimes Weissbier on his pale, or cloudy (unfiltered) version and Weizen on the darker interpretation, but the terms are interchangeable.

Dark white beer sounds contradictory but some brewers, including Erdinger, use that form.

Some brewers feel that Weissbier sounds more traditional, because it is an older term; others argue that Weizenbier is more precise.

A Munich brewer told me derisively that Weissbier was a local term from Swabia (to the west). Another said Weizenbier was a term used by ignorant Franconians (to the north).

I have also heard it argued that the term Weizenbier offers a better guarantee that the beer was made according to the convention that specifies a minimum of 50 per cent wheat.

It is necessary to use some barley both for its natural enzymes and its husks, which form a filter in the mash tun. Erdinger says it uses more than 50 per cent wheat, but declines to be more specific. I will guess 50-60 per cent.


The brewery was founded in 1853, started to make wheat beers in the 1890s, and has produced nothing else since it came into its present ownership, the Brombach family, in 1935.


The brewery was founded in 1853, started to make wheat beers in the 1890s, and has produced nothing else since it came into its present ownership, the Brombach family, in 1935. At the time, it was making 3,500 hectolitres a year.

When I first encountered South German wheat beers, in the early to mid 1960s, they were regarded as an old-fashioned, rustic style, favoured by old ladies with large hats. The beer was at that time customarily garnished with a slice of lemon.

People have told me the lemon was to mask the taste of the uneven products made at that time by unscientific country brewers; I do not believe that. Some of the wilder wheat beers might taste odd to the uninitiated, but not to people who grew up with them.

I have also heard it said that the lemon reduced the foam to manageable proportions, but why would anyone want to flatten a naturally sparkling drink?

I believe the lemon accentuated the tart, refreshing character of the beer, and I am sorry that it is so rarely seen in Germany today.

Apparently the green movement is worried that the rind may carry pesticides; a new generation of beer purists dislike the lemon; and it does not go so well with the heavily sedimented style currently favoured.

In the early 1960s, wheat beers had only 1 or 2 per cent of the Bavarian market, or at most 2 or 3, reckons Erdinger's second generation owner, Werner Brombach. At the time, his brewery was making 20,000 hectolitres a year.

In the late 1960s, the cloudy, rustic version began to be replaced by the filtered type, sometimes identified as Kristall. This Champagne image helped it recover.

Then, in the 1970s, the pendulum of style swung back to the cloudy, sedimented type, which is seen as a more natural product by today's young audience.

If the cloudy type is made in the traditional way, as Erdinger is, the sediment is yeast left during a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Some examples from non-specialist brewers are simply sedimented with the residual protein that would normally be removed after brewing.

The latest trend has been towards the darker types, still usually sedimented, and today wheat beer has a good 25 per cent of the Bavarian market.

Brombach confesses he gulped when he found it necessary in 1983 to invest 45 million marks to make a quantum leap to a capacity of a million hectolitres, at a new brewery on the edge of town.

The brewhouse he installed then is now being replicated in mirror image to double that capacity.

Both are spectacular show brewhouses, in matte stainless steel, with vessels of traditional shapes though in more singular, stylised renditions. Erdinger is by far the biggest wheat-beer producer in Germany (about twice the size of the other famous specialist, Schneider Weisse).

Erdinger contracts with local farmers to grow some of its barley and all of its wheat, and provides them with seed. All the barley is of two-row, summer varieties.

Two varieties of wheat are used. A double decoction mash is employed.

There are three hop additions, using Perle, Hallertau and Tetnanger, with the accent on aroma. (Hop bitterness does not sit well with the wheat beers particular style of fruitiness.)

A top-fermenting yeast is used in primary fermentation. The brewery has only horizontal tanks, in which the fermenting wort is a mere 2.8 metres high.

People in Bavaria say it is crazy not to have tall cylindro-conicals in a wholly ultra-modern brewery, says Brombach, but I think that kind of vessel sets up a convection that makes for dirty beer.


Clean beer is something of an obsession at Erdinger, which works to tolerances of a tenth of a degree of temperature, from mashing to fermentation, and is coy about revealing the details of either.


Clean beer is something of an obsession at Erdinger, which works to tolerances of a tenth of a degree of temperature, from mashing to fermentation, and is coy about revealing the details of either.

The filtered beer is tank conditioned, but the greater part of output has a secondary fermentation in the bottle. For this purpose, it is primed with wort, and pre-yeasted with a bottom culture.

This beer then spends from two to four weeks of warm conditioning at temperatures of up to 15íC.

I was shown a conditioning warehouse that can hold 15 million bottles and in which pallets are moved by robot lifts that run on tracks. It was the most advanced warehousing I have ever seen, even in Japan.

The popularity of Erdinger's products is no doubt partly due to their clean, easy, drinkability and to a slight residual sweetness that is an intentional house characteristic.

For a systematic tasting, I went back to Erdinger Weissbräu's original premises, a 1537 house that is still the brewery tap, at Number one on the High Street, Lange Zeile.

First, there were two bottled beers at around 1050': the filtered Erdinger Kristall, sweetish, with a hint of vanilla; and the sedimented Erdinger Mit Hefe (with yeast), which has a fruitier (apple-like) character.

The Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel (dark), at 1050-52', had a spicier character. This is a style of wheat beer that I especially enjoy, with its teasing counterpoint of tartness and chocolate-malt sweetness.

Finally, the strong version of the dark: Pinkantus Weizenbock, at 1070', smooth and liquorice-tasting.


Published Online: OCT 1, 1997
Published in Print: SEPT 1, 1991
In: What's Brewing

Beer Styles - Brew Travel

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