Brewing With Wheat

Understanding Wheat in Beer

June 2015

By: Jason Butler

First, how is wheat different than barley?

Wheat has higher protein levels than barley and those proteins are different, mostly glutens. These higher amounts of protein provide foam stability (bigger and longer lasting head) and increase the mouthfeel (body) of the beer. Those same proteins can also stay in suspension and lead to hazy beer. Wheat is also missing the husk that most malted barley has. The husk provides spacing between the milled grains when mashing. Not having that husk can lead to lautering problems (stuck sparge) in beers with a large percentage of wheat. While barley is grown specifically for beer production, wheat is typically grown for other purposes and brewers make use of what is available.


Wheat is classified by three different characteristics:

  • The color of the seed coat, which is “red” or “white”.
  • The cultivar, commonly split in two categories as “hard” and “soft”. Hard wheat is generally higher in protein, mills to a more course flour, and was traditionally used for making bread. Soft wheat mills to a finer flour and was traditionally used in making cakes. Hard wheat also tends to have a more pronounced wheat flavor than soft wheat.
  • When it is sown “spring” or “winter”.

Hard red winter wheat accounts for about 40% of the wheat produced in the US.  Contrary to intuition, red wheat is not darker nor does it produce a red wort.  The difference between flavor in red and white is very minor and most substitute one for the other based on availability.


What different wheat products are used in brewing?

  • Wheat Malt – Can be used for up to 70% of your grist. A protein rest (120° F) is recommended, but not required, when using more than 25% wheat malt. Use rice hulls with larger percentages to aide in lautering.
  • Flaked Wheat – Unmalted wheat that is gelatinized making starches digestible by the enzymes in barley malt while retaining the character of raw wheat. Good for drier, crisper styles. Can be used up to 40% of your grist. Doesn’t need to be milled.
  • Torrified Wheat – Unmalted wheat that has been heat treated to break down the cellular structure allowing enzymes to attack the starches and proteins more easily. Can be used up to 40% of your grist. Use rice hulls with larger percentages to aide in lautering.
  • Wheat Malt Extract – Typically 65% wheat malt and 35% barley malt for liquid or dry malt extract.

Leave a Comment