Hefeweizen is a deliciously refreshing and lightly hopped German ale with a long brewing history in Bavaria dating back to at least the middle ages. Hefeweizen translates to “yeast wheat” and is an ale made with, by German law, at least 50 percent malted wheat. The remaining grain used to make the beer is malted barley. Hefeweizens are cloudy due to the yeast that is not filtered out and is allowed to stay in the beer. It is the interaction of this suspended yeast and wheat malts that give hefeweizens their distinctive banana and clove flavors. Hefeweizen is a relatively light, low-alcohol beer, that is not meant for long-term aging or cellaring.
Aging or Cellaring Beer
Except for some high-alcohol beers -- which hefeweizens are not -- that are made for aging or cellaring, most beer is at its best when fresh. After bottling, canning or kegging, the beer will slowly begin to oxidize and lose its freshness, and its flavors will begin to dull. Few beers will have a shelf life longer than one year, and a more typical self-life is between three and six months for best flavor. When a beer is has gone past its prime, even well past its prime, it does not spoil or become unsafe to drink; it just starts to have a very poor, dull, or even undrinkable flavor.
Proper Storage of Hefeweizen
Regardless of the type of beer, light is the number one enemy of beer. Direct light can quickly “skunk” a beer and give it a terrible aroma and off flavors. Lighter styles of beer, including hefeweizen, should be stored away from direct light -- preferably kept completely dark as much as possible -- at around refrigerated temperature, 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Look to the Packaging First
The first place to look to see how long the hefeweizen will retain a solid flavor is on the beer packaging or bottle itself. Many beers, Bavarian hefeweizens included, list a “best by” date on the packaging, cans or bottles. This should be your first indication of how long the beer will maintain its best, or near-optimal, flavor.
If the package does not list a “best by” date you will have to use a little judgment on your own part. In general, a typical “shelf life” for a hefeweizen is 12 months. This does not mean that the beer will be at, or anywhere near, its peak flavor near the end of 12 months. It just means the beer will not be of poor flavor before then. To assure better flavor, it is advisable to drink hefeweizen between three and six months from its packaging date before the quality begins to degrade.
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