|German Hefeweizen (left) & Belgian Witbier (right)|
With that seemingly endless list of similarities out of the way, we can now begin to draw some lines in the sand and determine what it is that sets these two cloudy wheat ales apart. Most strikingly, as evidenced by the photo above, the two styles are not all that similar in appearance. While the hefeweizen pictured (Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizenbier) is an atypically dark example of the style, the distinction can almost always be made that hefes are slightly darker than their wit counterparts, with a colour that ranges from pale straw to very dark gold according to the BJCP. Conversely, witbier is generally very pale straw to very light gold in colour, which when paired with the cloudiness of the suspended yeast, gives the beer an almost white appearance ("witbier" literally translates to "white beer," and indeed is often referred to as such by many of the North American brewers who produce it). The most glaring difference between hefe and wit however, comes from a closer examination of their flavours, and of the ingredients used to produce them. While witbiers gain their sweet citrus and spice notes from the addition of a number of added herbs and spices, most typically coriander and orange peel, hefeweizen derives its notes of banana and clove not from adjuncts, but from special characteristics found in the yeast itself. Witbiers therefore tend to push things a little further in the spice and fruit department, with hefeweizens staying on the more conservative side of the fence.
Hefeweizens I Dig: Granville Island's Robson Street Hefeweizen is the first hefe I ever tried, and is still one of my all time favourites. I also really enjoy the recently released Beachcomber Summer Ale from Vancouver Island Brewery. For an unorthodox but delicious hefe that effectively disproves everything I just told you, check out Okanagan Spring's new Summer Weizen, which adds a subtle hint of apricot to the mix. Unfortunately most of these beers are seasonal summer only offerings, meaning they'll be disappearing from store shelves within the next few weeks. Snap them up now if you get a chance.
Witbiers I Dig: Driftwood Brewery's White Bark is a fantastic and well spiced example of the style, as is the limited edition and unfortunately extremely hard to find Lighthouse Belgian White. Kronenbourg Blanc is also quite good, as is Ol' Willy Wit from Fernie Brewing.
A quick note about adding a slice of orange or lemon to your wheat beer: while the practice is popular in many circles, be warned that the addition of this citrus will not only greatly alter the taste of the beer, but will also adversely affect head retention. Do it if you really dig it, but most serious beer people would strenuously advise against it.