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Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 08/24/2007

Wheat for the Heat

By Fritz Hahn

With temperatures expected to soar into the 90s over the next week, you'll need a nice cold drink to take your mind off the heat. For me, the perfect thirst-quencher is a German wheat beer, or Hefeweizen. I find that the pleasing, fruity acidity becomes more refreshing when the mercury rises.

Most German restaurants will have one on draft, while American versions, usually from Oregon's Widmer Brothers, can be found across the area. But the Hefeweizen capital of Washington is the Reef, where three of the bar's 16 taps are currently pouring Bavarian wheat beers. "I think [Hefeweizen beers] taste like sunshine," says Reef owner Brian Harrison, who admits he wishes he could put 11 weizens on during the summer.

Instead, he's making do with a trio of the most traditional German beers: Paulaner and Hofbrau -- two Munich breweries better known for their Oktoberfest beers -- and Weihenstephan, which has been making beer since 1040 and is celebrated as the oldest brewery in the world.

"They're dramatically different beers," Harrison says. "I give everyone a chance to find their own aesthetic." The Reef's staff shares this philosophy, good-naturedly pouring shotglass-sized samples for those who'd like to explore -- so long as you don't ask when the bar is slammed on a Saturday night.

Weihenstephan, which arrives in the traditional skyscraper-like glass, is a hazy beer with a complex flavor that hints of citrus, wheat, banana and a bit of spice. Paulaner is a fruity, earthy beer, with lots of clove in the nose. The lively Hofbrau, meanwhile, has a lot of wheat and a medium body, and just runs off the back of your tongue.

You'll smell and taste fruit and spices, but like all leading German beers, these are made with four ingredients: water, yeast, grain and hops. The alluring aromas and flavors come from chemical compounds called esters, which are produced by the yeast during the brewing process. Ask your favorite chemist about them sometime.

And a final note: In Germany, you don't get a slice of lemon on your glass, since the lemon's sourness doesn't mesh well with the beer's natural flavors. You'll get the option at the Reef, but I'd suggest you save the fruit for your Corona.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | August 24, 2007; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Comments

Just want to say everytime I've gone to the Reef, the bartenders have been amazingly friendly and helpful. Always a fun time.

Posted by: Mike | August 24, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Used to hate the Hefe until I went to Germany last year, where, as Fritz writes, nary a slice of lemon is to be found. Now I can't get enough. Gawd we Americans are stupid sometimes!

Posted by: Mark | August 24, 2007 4:39 PM | Report abuse

The Samuel Adams brewery offers several very good wheat beers, as well as their own American version of the Hefeweizen.

Posted by: CJ | August 24, 2007 9:40 PM | Report abuse

I would also recommend a pilsner, such as Stoudts or even a kolsch-style - if brewed correctly.

Posted by: Jerry | August 28, 2007 10:32 AM | Report abuse

RFD in Chinatown has Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat on tap and in bottles. Fantastic beer, has a great body where some Hefe's are almost watery.

Posted by: Kris | August 28, 2007 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Love the Hefes, year-round really,because I'm kind of a wussy beer drinker. That means that I also love the Belgian whites for summer . . . and year round. Really. Blue Moon and Hoegaarden - - I'm all over it. In general in the summer I tend to put lemon in any beer I drink. Kind of following the cooking rule that a little bit of lemon enhances the flavor of almost anything. I get a lot of exasperated looks from bartenders when I ask for the extra lemon, but whatevs. I tip well.

Posted by: Cin_in_DC | August 30, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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