A bock-strength German wheat beer

While our understanding and categorization of the German wheat beer family has evolved over the years, the acknowledgement of a strong wheat beer called weizenbock has been relatively static. Maybe that is because the prototypical weizenbock, Schneider Aventinus, is truly a world-class beer that is widely available and is well-known. But it could also be because the style guidelines have allowed for a much broader range in this style than in other German wheat beers.

I express German wheat beers as a family of beers because they may cross various style definitions and categories in different style systems. The general use of the term means beer originating in Germany with at least half the grist as wheat malt that use a top-fermenting yeast with a distinctive banana-and-clove profile. Variations by color, strength, and yeast presence in the finished product exist. 

The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) lists weizenbock as Style 10C within Category 10, German Wheat Beer, along with weissbier (hefeweizen) and dunkles weissbier (dunkelweizen). In Germany, you can find lower-alcohol versions (leichtes weizen) as well as filtered versions (kristalweizen); these are not separate BJCP styles, but judges should understand them if they appear in competition. Weizenbock includes variations for both pale (SRM 6–9) and dark (SRM 10–25) versions and it also covers the strength ranges for dunkles bock (1.065–1.074 O.G./16–18 °P) and doppelbock (1.074 O.G./18 °P and higher). Most examples are dark and bock-strength, although the most famous Schneider Aventinus is doppelbock strength.

The German wheat beer family generally is based on the type of yeast used, not just the content of wheat. Just note that outside of this wheat beer family there are several other well-known historical German wheat beers, which include the tart Berliner weisse, the salty-and-tart Gose, the smoked Grodziskie from neighboring Poland, and the sour-and-smoked Lichtenhainer. You can also mention the roggenbier, which is a variation of a dark wheat beer using malted rye. Maybe all of these together could be considered an extended family or perhaps a clan, but all distinct enough to be separate from the German wheat beer family.

Weizenbock’s History

While German wheat beers have a long history, weizenbock is a 20th century invention. As with modern wheat beers, this style traces its history to the famous Schneider brewery, which secured the right for all German brewers to be able to make wheat beers in 1872. Mathilde Schneider is credited with launching Schneider Aventinus, a doppelbock-strength dark wheat beer, in 1907. This product was the motivation for other breweries to develop stronger wheat beers.

Doppelbocks and other strong beers had been made for hundreds of years prior to this introduction, but this was the first documented beer that applied these techniques to wheat beers. Bock-strength beers are by German tradition of at least 16 °P (original gravity 1.065) while doppelbock-strength beers are at least 18 °P (1.074). Note that these definitions are not based on alcohol content; higher final gravities will result in lower-alcohol beers.

schneider weisse beer at the brewery

Germany also has a tradition of a time for strong beers (starkbierzeit, or literally, strong beer time) in the spring. Think of it like Oktoberfest but half a year offset and focusing on higher-gravity beers. Stronger beers like these are often thought of more as specialty beers than a specific style, so you will see some variety among weizenbocks. As I said, you can find bock-strength versions (like Erdinger Pikantus) and pale versions (like Weihenstephaner Vitus) all grouped together stylistically. 

Wheat beer brewing is more popular in Bavaria than elsewhere in Germany, so you may find weizenbocks from brewers in Munich and elsewhere in Bavaria. Don’t apply too narrow of a style definition and enjoy the special and individual nature of each version. Kind of like drinking in Belgium.

Sensory Profile

Since the style can vary a bit in strength and color, there is also some variation in describing the sensory profile. I like to think about common elements of the style, like the yeast character and overall balance rather than specific variations in the pale and dark versions driven mostly by the malts that provide color. The most important thing to know is that this is a strong and malty German wheat beer and darker versions will have deeper malt flavors. The variation in alcohol strength is of less consideration since they are all fairly strong beers (in the traditional sense), so the bock vs. doppelbock issue should not be given overdue emphasis. Many commercial examples straddle the line between the two strengths, anyway.

Similar to other beers in the German wheat beer family, weizenbocks have a low bitterness and no late-hop flavor or aroma. They use German weizen yeast, which gives a distinctive banana-and-clove profile. The higher gravity can bring in a few esters and some yeast produce interesting lychee fruit notes. However, defects from warm fermentations such as smoky or dirty notes are not welcome. The protein content of wheat generally helps create a thick, long-lasting head and the yeast can provide some haziness. The wheat (and gravity) can give a fuller body, at least medium-full. Any noticeable alcohol should be subtle, not burning. Carbonation is medium to high.

As wheat beers, weizenbocks will have a noticeable wheat malt character, which can be expressed as a bready, grainy, or doughy flavor. Darker versions will have deeper toasted and rich flavors than pale versions (think about the differences between a dunkles bock and a helles bock for a similar comparison) and could have some caramel and chocolate flavors as well. Some of the darker crystal-type malts can add some dark-fruit esters, such as plum, prune, and dark grapes. These malts can produce colors ranging from dark amber to brown in dark versions, and gold to amber in pale versions.

I often describe the mouthfeel of German wheat beers as fluffy or pillowy, which is more of a texture description than an actual body. The higher carbonation tends to lighten the beer, but that is offset somewhat by the stronger malt presence. The lower bitterness can make the beers seem sweet, but they shouldn’t really have a sugary finish. The finish is generally dry and the alcohol can add to this drying sensation.

As with other beers using this type of yeast, it can degrade quickly. Darker malts and higher alcohol can mitigate this somewhat, but wheat beers are prone to going a touch sour over time and losing that fresh malt character rapidly. An interesting effect that is also seen in doppelbocks is that a touch of oxidation tends to enhance some of the Maillard reaction products, giving the impression of a richer maltiness that is not present in fresh examples.

Brewing Ingredients and Methods

Weizenbocks will use malted wheat for at least half the grist, but there are many kinds that can be used depending on the desired color of the beer. I often use dark wheat, caramel wheat, and chocolate wheat in my recipes. But the base of the beer should be traditional malted wheat. If you think about making bock beers, wheat is serving a similar role as Pilsner malt. 

Most examples are dark and bock-strength, although the most famous Schneider Aventinus is doppelbock strength.

As malty bock beers, I like to include some Munich-type malts in the grist. Dark wheat often serves this role, but I might also include some barley-based malts depending on availability, such as dark Munich (Munich II), light Munich (Munich I), and aromatic malts. I use caramel wheat like I would use crystal malts (typically CaraMunich® malts), and I use chocolate wheat like I would use Carafa® Special malts. If you have to substitute, it’s good to know what function the malts are performing in the recipe so you make smart choices.

Decoction mashes are traditional to help break down the wheat malt, which has a high protein content. Single- and double-decoction mashes could be used, although some modern brewers will use step mashes. Rests may vary but often include a protein rest and at least one saccharification rest. One unusual step in many mash schedules is the ferulic acid rest (113 °F/45 °C), which produces ferulic acid that is converted by phenolic off-flavor positive (POF+) yeast to 4-vinyl guaiacol (4VG). 4VG provides the clove-phenol flavor in German wheat beers as all weizen yeast strains are POF+. 

In my experience, weizen strains also produce smoky, burnt flavors when fermented too hot. The weizen yeast strains also produce significant amounts of isoamyl acetate, which gives the banana ester. In many styles, isoamyl acetate is an off-flavor, but in German wheat beers it’s required. Wyeast 3068 and White Labs WLP300 are the most commonly used strains in the U.S., although other similar strains exist. Cooler pitching temperatures (59–62 °F, 15–17 °C) produce cleaner fermentations but still preserve the banana and clove character. Underpitching the yeast and using shallow fermenters are other common pieces of advice for German wheat beers, as they promote ester formation. I don’t tend to underpitch weizenbocks due to their strength, but avoid overpitching.

Hop aroma is almost non-existent in the finished beer profile, so I tend to keep it simple and use a single bittering addition of German noble hops and skip any finishing hops. The water profile is unobtrusive in all German wheat beers. I would use low mineral water with a little bit of calcium chloride, but avoid sulfates.

Homebrew Example

The availability of specialty wheat malts has made brewing this style easier over the years. Weyermann malts are widely available, and are well-suited to this recipe. I’ve also used lessons learned from perfecting my weissbier recipe and applied it to this one. I’ve used this recipe as the base for a blended Smoked Weizenbock that medaled in the National Homebrew Competition multiple times.

The base is German wheat malt, but I also use a large percentage of German Vienna malt to boost the toasty maltiness in the beer. Between these two, we’re looking at about three-fourths of the grist. The remainder is dark wheat malt and aromatic malt (adding malty richness), caramel wheat (a little sweetness, color, and dark fruit flavors), and chocolate wheat malt to adjust the color. It’s not in the recipe, but I normally toss in a pound (0.45 kg) of rice hulls to aid in lautering. It’s cheap insurance against a stuck mash.

I’m using a single decoction mash, which I think improves the mouthfeel of the beer, along with some step mashing. I don’t include a ferulic acid rest because I don’t think this beer needs one, but I might use it in a pale version of this beer. Note that the yeast I’m using is a bit spicier than the traditional Wyeast 3068 yeast, so that’s part of my thinking.

I have used Perle hops here, but any traditional German hop is fine. Hallertauer Herkules has a higher alpha acid, so may be more economical. At 17 IBUs and with no hop flavor or aroma addition, the choice of hops is not that critical as long as it doesn’t add any noticeable character.

My choice here is the White Labs WLP380 (Hefeweizen IV) strain, which is a bit spicier than their WLP300 (Wyeast’s 3068 equivalent) strain. I don’t usually make a starter with this beer since I don’t want to overpitch. I also don’t oxygenate the wort. I tend to ferment my wheat beers on the cool side and the same advice holds here. Many of the tips for working with wheat beer yeast strains seems counterintuitive, but these yeast strains can be picky about their fermenting conditions to produce the desired finished flavor profile. 

I normally recommend that wheat beers be served fresh, but at nearly 8% ABV this one should be matured if it seems like the alcohol is a touch too forward. I think this makes a good cool-weather beer, even if it isn’t “strong beer time.” For me, every time I open a beer, it’s Strong beer time. Yes, I am a dad, and that was a joke.

Weizenbock By The Numbers

OG: 1.064–1.090
FG: 1.015–1.022
SRM: 6–25
IBU: 15–30
ABV: 6.5–9.0%

Weizenbock recipe

a weizenbock beer in a weizen glass, on the darker end of the style's spectrum
Photo by Charlie A. Parker/Images Plus

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.079  FG = 1.020
IBU = 17  SRM = 20  ABV = 7.9%

7 lbs. (3.2 kg) wheat malt
5 lbs. (2.3 kg) Vienna malt
1.5 lbs. (680 g) dark wheat malt (7 °L)
1 lb. (454 g) aromatic malt (23 °L)
1.5 lbs. (680 g) caramel wheat malt (45 °L)
4 oz. (113 g) chocolate wheat malt (420 °L)
6 AAU Perle hops (30 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 8% alpha acids)
White Labs WLP380 (Hefeweizen IV), Wyeast 3638 (Bavarian Wheat), LalBrew Munich Classic, or Mangrove Jack’s M20 (Bavarian Wheat) yeast 
7⁄8 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step
No starter is required when using a liquid (or dry) yeast strain unless its viability is in question. This recipe uses reverse osmosis (RO) water. Adjust all brewing water to a pH of 5.5 using phosphoric acid. Add 1 tsp. of calcium chloride to the mash.

This recipe uses a decoction mash with steps. Use enough water to have a moderately thick mash (1.5 qts./lb. or 3.1 L/kg). Mash in the wheat, Vienna, dark wheat, and aromatic malts at 131 °F (55 °C) and hold for 15 minutes. Raise the temperature to 144 °F (62 °C) and rest for 15 minutes. 

Pull a thick decoction (33–40% of mash) and heat to 158 °F (70 °C) and rest for 15 minutes, then raise the temperature to a boil, then boil the decoction for 15 minutes, stirring the grains constantly.

Recombine the two mashes to hit 158 °F (70 °C). Rest for 10 minutes. Add the caramel and chocolate wheat malts. Raise the mash temperature to 168 °F (76 °C). Recirculate for 15 minutes. Sparge slowly and collect 6.5 gallons (24.5 L) of wort.

Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops at the time indicated in the recipe. Chill the wort to 59 °F (15 °C), pitch the yeast, and ferment until complete at 62 °F (17 °C). Rack the beer, prime and bottle condition, or keg and force carbonate to 2.7 v/v.


(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.079  FG = 1.020
IBU = 17  SRM = 20  ABV = 7.9%

6.75 lbs. (3.1 kg) Bavarian wheat dried malt extract (60–65% wheat)
1.8 lbs. (820 g) Munich liquid malt extract
1.5 lbs. (680 g) caramel wheat malt (45 °L)
4 oz. (113 g) chocolate wheat malt (420 °L)
6 AAU Perle hops (30 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 8% alpha acids)
White Labs WLP380 (Hefeweizen IV), Wyeast 3638 (Bavarian Wheat), LalBrew Munich Classic, or Mangrove Jack’s M20 (Bavarian Wheat) yeast
7⁄8 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Step by Step
Use 6.5 gallons (24.5 L) of water in the brew kettle; heat to 158 °F (70 °C). 

Turn off the heat. Add the caramel and chocolate wheat malts in a mesh bag and steep for 30 minutes. Remove and rinse grain gently.

Add the malt extracts and stir thoroughly to dissolve completely. Turn the heat back on and bring to a boil. 

Boil the wort for 60 minutes, adding hops at the time indicated.

Chill the wort to 59 °F (15 °C), top up fermenter to 5.25 gallons (20 L) if needed, then pitch the yeast, and ferment until complete at 62 °F (17 °C). 

Rack the beer, prime and bottle condition, or keg and force carbonate.

Issue: September 2023