In the past I’ve experimented with different hops in the same base pale ale to make different IPAs. But there are more variables to play with than just hops. Depending on the style and fermentation conditions, the yeast you use can provide different flavors in the form of esters and phenols, in addition to the expected carbon dioxide and alcohol. So for this brew, I decided to make three different kinds of wheat ales: German Hefeweizen, Belgian Witbier, and American Wheat Ale. Same wort, different yeast, all delicious.

The yeast makes (almost) all of the difference between the hefeweizen, witbier, and American wheat ale.

A trip to Munich, Germany a few years back cemented the hefeweizen - and its darker cousin, the dunkelweizen - as my absolute favorite beer. The banana and clove flavors, all provided by the yeast, are what make the style stand out. Belgian witbier remains a close second, especially the true-to-form American craft beers such as Ommegang Witte and Allagash White. Witbiers are typically spiced with orange peel and coriander, so I was curious how much of the flavor is provided by the yeast. American ales typically use “clean” (or “flavorless”) yeast, so I decided to do some dry-hopping to punch up the flavor. I kept a little unspiced Belgian and unhopped American around to experience the difference from the yeast alone.


Styles Weissbier (BJCP 10A), Witbier (BJCP 24A), American Wheat Beer (BJCP 1D)
Recipe Type Partial Mash
Batch Size 5 Gallons
Original Gravity 1.050
Final Gravity 1.015
ABV 4.6%
IBUs 12
Color 3.6 SRM


The base beer is pretty simple, just wheat, malt extract, bittering hops, and yeast.

Kind Amount Color
Pilsen LME 3.3 lb 3.5°L
Wheat Malt 4.5 lb 2°L
Kind Amount % AA Time
Hallertau 0.75 oz 4.5% 60 min
Cascade 1 oz 5.7% Dry Hop, 2 days
Kind Amount Stage
Bitter Orange Peel 0.25oz Secondary
Ground Coriander 0.1oz Secondary
Kind Amount
White Labs WLP300 “Hefeweizen Ale” 1 pouch
White Labs WLP550 “Belgian Ale” 1 pouch
White Labs WLP001 “California Ale” 1 pouch

This is a pretty simple wheat beer base, with about 57% wheat and 43% barley and some classic noble hops for bittering. Witbiers in particular can go lighter in color or contain more specialty malt, but I figured this is close enough. Since we’re making three beers, you’ll need to divide the wort between three fermentors and pitch one pouch of yeast in each. The Cascade hops are just for the American wheat beer, and the orange peel and coriander are just for the witbier.


Creating the base beer is pretty straightforward: steep, boil, chill, pitch, wait.

Add 2.5 gallons of cold water to your kettle and bring it to 155°F. Steep the wheat malt for an hour, checking and adjusting the temperature every 15 minutes. After the hour is up, remove the wheat malt and bring the wort up to a boil. While the wort is heating up, stir in the pilsen malt extract until it’s completely dissolved. Once boiling, add the hops and let the wort boil for an hour.

When the boil is complete, chill the wort down to about 72°F. Split the wort among your three fermentors. I went with 1 gallon of hefeweizen and two gallons each of American wheat and Belgian witbier. Pitch the yeast into each fermentor, seal them off, and let the yeast do their work.

You're not getting less of each beer, you're getting more variety!

Towards the end of the two-week fermentation, it’s time to add some extra flavor. For the American wheat, add the Cascade hops and dry hop for the final two days of fermentation. For the witbier, make a “tea” by boiling the orange peel and coriander in a half cup of water for about 10 minutes. Strain out the orange peel and pour the tea into the fermentor. Two days should be enough time for the flavors to get to know each other, but you can add the tea at any point.

Note: before adding the hops and spices, I saved about a half gallon each of the witbier and American wheat for my “control” taste test. It was fun to get a comparison point, but those beers are not as tasty as the fully-flavored versions.


I was very happy with all of the final beers. The wheat base gives them all a similar color and initial sweetness, but the yeast really does make all the difference. The hefeweizen is incredibly flavorful, impressive considering that there are no additives. Despite adding the spices so late, the witbier is citrusy and peppery and delicious. Plus it came out better than my last attempt at the style, perhaps due to better fermentation temperature or the different grain bill. And the fruity Cascade dry hops in the American wheat compliment the sweet base without being overly bitter.

From left to right: unspiced Belgian witbier, Belgian witbier, hefeweizen, American wheat, unhopped American wheat.

While not as tasty overall, the unhopped American and unspiced Beligian beers were perhaps the more interesting parts of this experiment since they highlight the influence of the yeast. The unspiced witbier is slightly citrusy and tart, which pairs nicely with the orange peel in the “finished” beer. The unhopped American wheat was honestly quite boring; the clean-fermenting yeast didn’t impart much flavor, and the base beer itself doesn’t shine alone.


The German Hefeweizen.

Appearance Opaque but not hazy, golden brown, small head.
Aroma Classic hefeweizen banana and clove, bread, sweet malt.
Mouthfeel A bit undercarbonated, smooth, not cloyingly sweet.
Flavor Malty, sweet wheat, brown sugar, banana bread, caramel, amazing.
Overall True to form, delicious.


The Belgian Witbier.

Appearance Opaque, golden brown, little head.
Aroma Peppery spice, less sugary sweet than the hef, light, malty, zesty.
Mouthfeel Dry, sweet balanced by spice.
Flavor Malty sweet, ick of spice and orange peel, fruit cake, refreshing, radler/shandy-esque.
Overall Still not at Allagash levels of tasty, but still quite good.

Witbier (Unspiced)

Appearance Clearer than the spiced version, otherwise similar.
Aroma Less peppery spice, less sweet.
Mouthfeel Undercarbonated, not overly sweet.
Flavor Malty, some citrus and tartness from the yeast, lacks the complexity of the full witbier, funky, acidic.
Overall Interesting for sure, but wouldn’t drink on its own.

American Wheat

The dry-hopped American Wheat ale.

Appearance Cloudy from the hops, slightly paler brown, proper white head.
Aroma Citrus and hop resin for sure, some malty sweet, floral.
Mouthfeel More carbonation, still smooth, dry from hop bitterness.
Flavor More orange-y than the witbier, less malty, bread, sourdough, bitter, lemon zest.
Overall Balance of malty base and fruity/bitter hops, would make again.

American Wheat (Unhopped)

Appearance Less opaque, almost clear, otherwise similar.
Aroma Not much at all, some malt or sugar.
Mouthfeel Undercarbonated, less sweet, not dry though.
Flavor No yeast funk or spice, just some lightly sweet malt backbone.
Overall Pretty boring, but refreshing.

Despite this being an experiment, I would make all three wheat beers again in a heartbeat. The process would be even more simple if I was only making one at a time!