With summer now officially here, an American wheat beer is something you want to consider brewing. It’s a pale, refreshing beer exhibiting the soft, somewhat sweet, grainy flavor of wheat. A typical American wheat beer recipe will produce a beer with low to moderate alcohol content and a low to moderate hop character. It’s a sessionable, easy-drinking beer that you’ll enjoy in spite of the summer heat. Some popular examples of this style include Bell’s Oberon, Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat, and Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale.
The defining characteristic of American wheat beer is the use of — you guessed it — wheat. Wheat is an adjunct grain often used for flavor, body, and head retention. Extract brewers will find it easiest to use wheat malt extract. All-grain and partial mash brewers mash want to consider adding rice hulls to their mash, as the higher protein in wheat can sometimes lead to a stuck mash. Read Brewing with Wheat for more information on working with this special grain.
Unlike German hefeweizen, American wheat beer does not show the banana/clove combination of flavors from hefeweizen yeast. American yeast is more appropriate, allowing the subtle flavors of hops and grains to come through. The “Chico” strain of yeast is the classic choice for an American wheat bee recipe, but of course you’re welcome to experiment with any style of yeast you like.
The soft, subtle texture of American wheat beer makes it a great candidate as a base for fruit beer. Strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and apricot are all good options. Read A Simple Guide to Making Fruit Beers for some tips on how to add fruit to your homebrew.
Read to brew up a cool, refreshing American wheat beer? Try the recipe below, or consider brewing the Brewer’s Best American Pale Wheat beer kit.
(5-gallon batch, extract with grains)
- OG: 1.052
- FG: 1.012
- ABV: 5.2%
- IBUs: 21
- SRM: 4.5
- 6.6 lbs. Steam Freak Wheat LME
- 1 lb. Briess pilsner malt
- .5 lb. flaked wheat
- 1.5 oz. Willamette hops at :60
- .5 oz. Cascade hops at :0
- 1 pack Safale US-05 ale yeast
Heat three gallons of clean, chlorine-free water to 150˚F. Place crushed pilsner malt and flaked wheat in a muslin grain bag and steep for 30 minutes. Remove grains and stir in liquid malt extract. Bring wort to a boil, keeping an eye on the kettle to avoid a boil over. At the start of the 60-minute boil, add the Willamette hops. At the end of the boil, remove kettle from heat, add the Cascade hops, and immediately start to chill the wort using an ice bath or an immersion wort chiller. Bring wort to 80˚F or below and mix in enough cool, chlorine-free water to make five gallons of wort. Stir well to aerate, then pitch yeast. Ferment at 68-70˚F for 2-3 weeks, then bottle or keg.
Are you a fan of wheat beers? Do you have an American wheat beer recipe you'd like to share below?
David Ackley is a beer writer, brewer, and self-described "craft beer crusader." He holds a General Certificate in Brewing from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and is founder and editor of the Local Beer Blog.