In reality, the best American wheat ales are as nuanced, tasty, and refreshing. While traditional hefeweizens might strike you as malty, banana-forward, and devoid of hops, American wheat ales (and American takes on Belgian witbiers, or “white beers”) leave the banana behind for brighter flavors and spices like coriander and orange peel, along with a mixed wheat profile (which can include malted and raw wheat, two-row malted barley, and even oats) that yields lightly sweet cereal flavors, followed by a crisp hop finish.
Here are nine of the best American wheat beers available this year, ranked — and not a hefeweizen to be found.
9. St. Clair Brown Honey Wheat Ale
Beautifully cloudy in the glass, St. Clair Brown’s Honey Wheat has lemony, saison-like aromas. “The aroma and body are super light, a caress,” one taster noted. “Not too complex, but delicious.” Indeed, this light and summer-friendly brew would be appropriately refreshing all year round. With almost no bitterness on the finish, it’s easy to love.
Fort Collins, Colo.
Almost opaque and sunset-gold, this unfiltered American wheat is a year-round offering from Odell — for good reason. Subtle citrus aromas jump from the glass, followed by straw-like grain and just a hint of yeast-driven spice. A creamy mouthfeel is lifted with crisp carbonation, making this a great beer to pair with a meal.
San Leandro, Calif.
This summer seasonal brewed with watermelon puree was a hit among our panel’s melon lovers, though some found it less lovable. “It’s a good wheat beer with a candy problem,” one taster noted, likening its aroma to watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher. “It’s one of those beers that’s good for people who don’t like beer,” noted another. Whatever your feeling about that big pink melon, this beer is sweet and easy as a summer afternoon, with a soft mouthfeel that makes it chuggable, even if candy-like.
Zesty, delicious, and traditional with a twist, White Rascal purrs with Belgian yeast-driven aromas and flavors of banana and clove, reminiscent of a hefeweizen without being filling or overt. The mouthfeel is medium-bodied with the soft, fluffy feel typical of wheat beers. Citrus-forward flavors of tangerine and orange spice up the finish, thanks to the addition of orange peel to the recipe.
Translucent as an orange wedge and topped with a fluffy, off-white head, Bell’s Oberon drew our panelists in with its lemony citrus and spicy yeast aromas. A touch of sweetness and a zingy finish made it extra refreshing, and its fluffy mouthfeel made it all the more alluring. At once smooth and crisp, Oberon takes on more savory notes as it sits in the glass, and each sip concludes with a soft bite. “It’s the kind of beer you can chug from a pint glass and be happy to be handed another,” one taster noted.
Brushed gold in color with a fluffy white head, Highland pulls off a classic white with Stargazer. “Smells like beer — and Belgian yeast,” one taster noted, praising its simplicity. Flavors of fruit, spice, and herbs began to emerge with second, third, and fourth sips, along with a touch of sweetness cut by a fragrant citrus pith. Crisp and clean with a tingling finish, Stargazer invigorates without overwhelming, its additions of grapefruit peel, ginger, and coriander present but subtle.
For those who like their spices front and center, Finback’s Double Sess(ion) is it. The most interesting of the mix, this beer pours a cloudy yellow and has bold aromas of ginger, Szechuan peppers, chamomile, and zippy citrus. Sparkling carbonation justifies Finback’s description of this spicy wheat as one “for all the hefe-haters who want a great summer beer.”
With Super 77, Wiley Roots offers a deliciously crisp wheat ale with a flavorful edge. Pouring a cloudy gold and bursting with fruity and sweet cereal-grain aromas, it reminded one taster of “a bowl of cereal with berries, but in balanced beer form.” This struck our tasters as the most nuanced and versatile of our wheat beer tasting, and no wonder: We subsequently discovered the beer has won two Great American Beer Festival medals, including a gold in 2015.
Pouring the cloudiest, palest of straw yellow with a bright white head, Allagash White is peak witbier. Pepper, clove, and lemon aromas fill the nose, followed by light-bodied crisp refreshment from a perfected grain bill of oats, both malted and unmalted raw wheat, along with Nugget, Crystal, and Czech Saaz hops. Brewed for the first time in 1995 and now a household name, this hazy, Belgian-style wheat beer spiced with coriander and Curacao orange peel impresses us again and again.