Grolsch Weizen, the first of my three European wheat beers, from Crossharbour ASDA was a good one. No, wait, “good” is the wrong word. It was outstanding. Almost, but not quite toppling Hoegaarden White Beer off of its delicious throne.
If you only check back here on the rare occasions when you remember to, you may be wandering why I’m not being cynical. Usually by the second paragraph, I’ll be well into mocking your favourite lager. Frankly, it’s shocking me too.
Sadly, my microscopic knowledge of beer offers few answers. The only explanation I can proffer is that it is “live”. Specks of yeast are floating around inside the bottle. So much in fact, that they make the beer cloudy. That’s why it looks different to most other lagers, beers and ales which have had everything filtered out. And, somehow, that yeastiness turbo-charges the flavour, making it tastier and more interesting. If you can offer a better explanation, the comment section at the end of this post is the place to leave it.
So, what is the second of my three wheat beers? It is Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier, which is also the second most expensive of the lot, at £1.84 pence. And it looks like this.
Sticking to conventions, it is brown. Look at it just right though, and you can see a white cloudiness within. And that sight makes my mouth water.
It doesn’t have a neck label. What it does have is a huge piece of neck foil with the word “Imported” written all over it. Don’t get me wrong. “Imported” is a very welcome word. Especially in a world full of licensed foreign beers from Luton. But, it would be nice to have some kind of useful information up here instead.
The front label gets all German. The roundel has writing so Germanic, that it’s hard to read. Inside the roundel is a hearty monk looking into a tankard. If you’ve got a beer made to an ancient recipe, you want to know that European monks are involved.
Under that are some German words. Deploying the technique of guesswork and Google to deduce the meaning, “Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu” must be the full name of the brewery. “München”, I think, is the city of Munich, which places Franziskaner in Bavaria.
On the left hand side of the label is a taste of things to come elsewhere. It only says where on the bottle to find the ‘best before’ date, but because it does so in several different languages, it’s the length of a medium sized paragraph.
The right hand side is the same. Picking through the impenetrable block of multilingual text, one finds the vital statistics. Not that you’ll feel rewarded for the effort. This is the ubiquitous 0.5L bottle with the standard 5% alcoholic volume. That does make it a tiny bit stronger than some of the other white beers though. There’s also the full address of the brewer, in case you want to write them a letter.
The big-block-of-multilingual-text syndrome gets even worse on the back.
The closest it gets to an ‘story’ is the sentence “Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier Hell is brewed in accordance with German Purity Law”. Would that be the same obsolete Reinheitsgebot that Grolsch Wetzen is made to? All I know is, it’s unfortunate to have the word “Hell” in your company name.
In the big block of text is a list of ingredients. That list is “water, wheat malt, barley malt, yeast, hop extract”. I don’t know about you, but I love how these European beers are obliged to give a full list. Not the “contains malted barley” that you get over here.
The only other bits of information are addresses. One of them is the postal address. The other is a web address at www.franziskaner.info. Sadly, I can’t get past the age check screen, because it was designed for resolutions higher than what my monitor is set to. That makes the website a paragon of awfulness. Nevermind, the most important facts are there on the front page. It turns out that Franziskaner has been made with Bavarian brewing tradition since 1363, which was literally a very long time ago.
With nothing else to read, we get to the fun bit. What does Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier taste like? Is it better or worse than the brilliance of the other wheat beers? I’m looking forward to finding out.
Yes, I know, it’s the wrong type of glass. Until I get the ‘right’ kind of glass, this one will have to do. Forget the glass though. Just look at the beer.
A cloudy, amber colour with a thick, foamy head make Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier just exactly how you want a wheat beer to look. Compare it to Grolsch Weizen and it looks almost identical. And that’s not a bad thing.
What does Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier smell of? It smells much like the other live beers. And that, again, is a very good thing. Because it smells delicious. Pungent too, so you won’t miss it. Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier does smell more wheaty and less of fruit and citrus than some, though. For some reason, it’s making me think about bread. Is that a hint of the taste?
What does Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier taste of? The first couple of sips are pleasant ones. They don’t disappoint, but they do reveal a different range of flavours and tastes. The hints dropped by the smell were right. Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier seems to be about a straightforward wheaty experience, and less about complex citrussy fruitiness. This is going to need a few more gulps to pin down.
A couple more gulps and some of my suspicions are confirmed. Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier is mostly about the wheat, but also about maltiness. This is one of those beers where you’ll struggle to find the join between the flavours and the aftertaste. Neither are particularly powerful. About half-way through, and Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier is as rich and smooth as I’d hoped, with no lingering bitterness.
What am I enjoying about Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier? There is a lot to enjoy here. I’m liking how honest and straightforward it is. It’s as if the Medieval monks decided to make a simple wheat beer, and make it as well as they could. I like how you can taste the wheat, which gets lost the complexity of others. I like how these things make it different from the other wheat beers. I like how rich and full bodied it is. I love how well made it is. All of which come together to make it an outstandingly satisfying and drinkable bottle of beer.
What don’t I like about Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier? There are one or two tiny, niggly, issues. If, like me, you were hoping for the complex wave of fruity and citrussy flavours and tastes of its competitors, you’ll be a tiny bit disappointed. Not very disappointed. Just a tiny bit. You might think that because of that, it wasn’t as light and refreshing as you’d hoped. Beyond that, you might not like how gassy it is; to which most wheat beers are particularly prone. Most of all, you’ll balk at how expensive and hard to find, Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier is, here in Britain.
How to sum up Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier? It is very, very good. It delivers three-quarters of what I hoped for, but it completely nails the things it does. I opened the bottle hoping for the same complex blend of wheatiness, citrus and fruit that Hoegaarden White Beer and Grolsch Weizen won me over with. Instead, it focussed on the wheatiness and did it better than that other wheaty wheat beer, Erdinger Weißbier. I’ve learnt a lot from this roundup. I’ve learnt that there are wheat beers that have lots of fruit and citrus. And others that stick to the basic wheatiness. And, of the ones I’ve tried, Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier is the tastiest of the wheaty wheat beers. So far. Does that make any sense?
Have you tried Franziskaner Hefe-Weissbier? What did you think of it? Can you translate anything from the label or explain what makes wheat beers special better than I can?
If so, do please leave your opinions, translations, explanations, requests, recommendations and places to buy, here in the comments, all of which I do read.