To put it bluntly, summer will be over quicker than you can remove all that weird fuzz from a single ear of corn. That’s why you need to get the most out of this weather while it’s still here. That means enjoying summery beers without waiting for some special occasion. It’s the season to sip IPAs, pale ales, Saisons, and, most importantly, wheat beers.
The latter is what I’m most interested in today. To put it simply, wheat beer is an ale made with a greater proportion of wheat than malted barley. But it’s also so much more complex than that. Popular for centuries in Europe, styles include the German weissbier (or hefeweizen), Belgian lambics, gueuze, and witbiers, Berliner Weisse, and Leipzig’s salty and tart gose to name only a few touchstones. While I could spend days writing about the various wheat beer offshoots, today we’re going to turn our attention to the Americanized version of European wheat beer — the American pale wheat beer — with its citrus and spice characteristics.
Since a nice and light wheat brew is a summer classic, I selected eight of the most well-known and highly respected wheat beers and blindly tasted and ranked each to determine the best of the bunch.
Here’s our lineup:
- Allagash White
- Avery White Rascal
- Odell Easy Street
- Bell’s Oberon
- Ommegang Witte
- Goose Island 312
- Blue Moon
- Shock Top
Let’s get drinking!
Part 1: The Taste
I took a moment to breathe in the scents of citrus peels, slight coriander, and a wheat sweetness before my first sip. Then I took a sip and found a very bold, flavorful beer with hints of sweet malts, bright citrus, and a nice spicy finish. While a little low in the wheat department, this was refreshing, crisp, and felt perfect for a summer day.
This beer’s aroma will be tough to beat. I smelled sweet with biscuit-like malts, banana-like yeast, fresh-cut grass, sweet fruits, and just a hint of floral hops. The flavor is hoppier than I’d expect from a wheat beer, but I really like it. This is tempered by the addition of citrus zest, tropical fruits, caramel malts, and a nice, slightly bitter finish that left me craving more.
The nose is pretty bland. After a while, I smelled slight citrus and maybe some coriander and other spices, but not much else. There’s no wheat at all. The flavor is fairly sweet and malty with a ton of over-the-top citrus, but also some acid-like flavors that weren’t very palatable.
Overall, this is a pretty flavorless beer that I wouldn’t rush to try again.
This wheat beer is different from most and it’s apparent on the nose. While slightly muted, I smelled biscuit-like malts, caramel, and just a hint of citrus. I expect a little fewer malt scents and more wheat and citrus aromas from a summery wheat beer. The palate is equally malty with fruit flavors and subtle, bitter hops.
It’s not a bad beer, but I didn’t feel like I was drinking a wheat beer at all.
This beer’s nose is like breathing in the scents of a field of wildflowers. After this initial floral aroma, I found sweet wheat, biscuit-like malts, zesty citrus, and subtle spices. The palate was complex with hints of banana, tangerines, sweet wheat, and a nice kick of pepper and spices. The finish was crisp, thirst-quenching, and flavorful.
The aromas are all wheat beer. In fact, it smells like summer with notes of orange peels, sweet honey, and caramel malts. I took a sip and found this beer to be surprisingly fruity, filled with tangerine sweetness, and a hint of yeast.
Definitely not a bad beer, but a little sweet and lacking in spice.
The nose on this beer is spicier than I expected. I smelled orange zest, coriander, and other spices. Honestly, that was about it. The nose was dominated by these scents. Taking a sip, I found a beer that seemed to be a bit of a one-trick pony. It was overly sweet and filled with citrus and spices.
It was all a bit overwhelming and heavy for my taste.
A lot is going on with this beer’s nose. Right away, I noticed the aromas of sweet wheat, coriander, various other spices, floral hops, and a nice kick of citrus. Taking a sip revealed a surprisingly pleasing bitter-to-sweetness ratio with hints of orange peels, citrus zest, subtle spices, and a nice, bright, refreshing finish.
All in all, this unfiltered beer is crisp, sweet, and memorable.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Shock Top — Taste 3
Average Price: $8 (six-pack)
You know Shock Top, it’s that wheat beer that’s adorned with a very strange image of an orange slice that’s not only wearing sunglasses but has a mohawk. Why they chose this as the face of the brand, I’ll never know. But I know that this grocery store staple is brewed with orange, lime, and lemon peels. It’s not fancy by any means, but always there.
Shock Top has been around for a while and it obviously has its fans. It’s clear that this mass-produced beer isn’t for me though. I’ll stick with my go-to craft brews.
7. Goose Island 312 — Taste 4
Average Price: $10 (six-pack)
Obviously, Goose Island is most renowned for its Bourbon County Stout. But the Chicago-based brewery makes myriad other brews. This includes its 312 “Urban Wheat Ale”. This sessionable fruity beer is made with 2-row malt and wheat as well as Millenium, Cascade, and Hallertau hops.
This is the first time I’ve ever had this beer and I didn’t hate it. It falls so low on the list because, after the blind taste, I didn’t feel like I was drinking a wheat beer at all. Maybe I’ll try it at the end of the summer or fall.
6. Blue Moon — Taste 7
Average Price: $16 (12-pack)
When non-craft fans (or anyone eating at a chain restaurant) think of wheat beer, they likely think of Blue Moon Belgian Wheat. Like Shock Top, it’s available everywhere. Brewed with Valencia orange peels and coriander, it’s the Corona of wheat beers, as it requires a slice of orange to really be enjoyed.
I don’t buy Blue Moon. But I have had it many times at bars when there isn’t much else available. It’s a decent beer when you add a slice of orange, but nothing to get excited about by any means.
5. Bell’s Oberon — Taste 6
Average Price: $11 (six-pack)
Bell’s fans eagerly await the spring return of Oberon. It’s only available from March until August, making it a summer staple. Made with Bell’s proprietary yeast, wheat malts, and surprisingly no extra spices, it’s a sweet and refreshing beer well suited for summer sipping.
Oberon fans are probably going to attack me for this, but it’s hard to blindly rank (mostly) great beers. This beer could have landed higher on the list, but it was lacking the subtle spice I usually associated with summery wheat beers.
4. Avery White Rascal — Taste 1
Average Price: $10 (six-pack)
Avery White Rascal is just that, a rascal of a beer with playful, unfiltered, and spicy flavors. This Belgian-style wheat beer is Avery’s flagship beer for a reason. Made to pay homage to the classic wheat beers of Belgium, it gets its spicy flavor from Curaçao orange peel and coriander.
This award-winning wheat beer is available year-round. That means you can enjoy it for its spices in the middle of the winter or its fruity sweetness during the hazy summer months. It’s a very adaptable, noteworthy beer.
3. Allagash White — Taste 8
Average Price: $13 (six-pack)
If you were going to make a list of the best American wheat beers of all time, there’s no doubt that Allagash White would be at the top of that list. This 5.2 percent Belgian-style wheat beer is made with malted wheat, raw wheat, and oats to give it an unfiltered hazy look. It gets its spicy flavor from the addition of orange peel and coriander.
There’s a reason Allagash White is arguably the most highly respected wheat beer in America. It’s perfectly balanced with spice, yeast, wheat, and citrus sweetness.
2. Ommegang Witte — Taste 5
Average Price: $12 (four-pack)
Situated just outside of Cooperstown, New York (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame), Brewery Ommegang is a Belgian-style beer fan’s dream. One of its best offerings is its Witte. Brewed with a combination of malted and unmalted wheat and spiced with orange peel and coriander, this unfiltered, hazy beer has been a summer staple since its inception.
When I imagine a summer beer, this is exactly what my mind envisions. It’s hazy, refreshing, and filled with spice, wheat, and bold citrus flavors that pair well with humidity and sun.
1. Odell Easy Street — Taste 2
Average Price: $11 (six-pack)
Colorado’s Odell is known for its award-winning beers. One of its best is Easy Street, an unfiltered 4.6 percent wheat ale. This American-style wheat beer is brewed with a blend of American hops, crisp Rocky Mountain water, specialty malts, and the brand’s proprietary yeast blend.
I was looking for a new got-to beer for summer 2021 and I think I found it. Easy Street ticks all the wheat beer boxes and even adds in more hops to appeal to the IPA fan in me.
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