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Culture

Wheat Beer Conquers New York

Germany's favorite summer beverage has crossed the Atlantic and is popping up on tables all over New York City. "Weizenbier" has become the latest fad there, even though New Yorkers don't seem to know how to drink it.

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Nothing like a "Weizenbier" on a hot summer day!

A Bavarian brewmaster would most certainly take offense.

The famous "Kristallweizen", a clear wheat ale, being drunk out of a wine glass with ice cubes! But that's what's happening in New York City. As each sip is taken, the waitress pours a refill over the melting ice.

In Germany, the tall, slender Weizenbier glass is a symbol of the nation's beer culture. Most importantly, it holds the entire half liter (17 ounces) content of a bottle. Germans sometimes like to pop a wedge of lemon in their wheat beer glasses, turning the most refreshing beer of all into something absolutely essential for summer.

But New Yorkers don't seem to mind the watered-down version with ice cubes.

"I love the stuff and drink it in the summertime. It's sweet and crisp," says one drinker interviewed by DW-Radio. Another compares it to potato chips: "You can't just have one."

And there is one more benefit to the cloudy drink, he adds. "It doesn't give you a hangover" - surprising, when you consider the 5.5 percent alcohol content.

Cloudy and delicious

Traditionally, beer is made with malted barley. But wheat beer substitutes the barley with a substantial proportion of wheat. This makes it lighter, both in color and taste.

If the label says "Hefeweizen", the bottle contains unfiltered wheat beer. This means the yeast ("Hefe") is still in the bottle, which turns the beer cloudy and makes for a more intense, almost spicy flavor. Kristallweizen, on the other hand, has been filtered prior to bottling and has a more delicate taste.

Not only are the special wheat beer glasses a tradition, pouring Hefeweizen is an art in itself. The glass needs to be rinsed out with cold water, then held over the mouth of the bottle. Both are then turned upside down.

As the beer gushes out, the bottle should be lifted up slowly. When it's nearly empty, it should be withdrawn completely and swung around in one hand to capture the last grains of yeast, which are then poured in vigorously to cloud the beer (in the case of non-filtered varieties).

Germany: a new trend?

After Belgian beer was all the rage in the hip city, Germany's wheaty brew creations seem to be the next "in" drink in New York. According to the New York City Beer Guide online, no less than 28 bars and restaurants serve German Weizenbier on tap. And a near countless number offer their customers several other popular German brews.

Most of these pubs are popping up in the new hot district of the East Village. These bars are a far cry from the traditional German Hofbräuhaus environment with their rustical interior, folk music, and hearty sausage platters. They're more in line with the new Berlin scene: modern, cool and definitely the meeting place for trend-conscious city dwellers.

One of the more popular New York German beer bars is Zum Schneider, which Celebrator Beer News magazine referred to in July as the "new hotspot for hip urbanites" looking for a change from their normal martinis. The owner's wheat beer is reputed to be the best in town, and the lines of young beer fans waiting to enter Schneider's place begin forming early in the evening.

In true German beer drinking tradition, Georg Schneider insists on serving his guests wheat beer in the authentic conical Weizen glasses. The question is, will this too catch on in the city of trends, or will New Yorkers prefer sipping the German suds from their elegant wine glasses.

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