I spotted two Weihenstephaner beers a while back that I recalled had won the world beer awards in 2012 so I figured I should see what the fuss was about.
The Hefeweissbier Dunkel won two titles. Best dark wheat beer in both Europe and the world. High praise indeed so would it match up? Well it pours a cloudy, muddy brown with a large fluffy white head. The aroma is banana flavoured bubblegum and quite sweet. The taste again was banana/bubblegum along with brown sugar and cloves. I found it a little thin but a solid beer. I have had plenty of dark wheat beers I would consider superior though. Often they are sold on tap in brew pubs though so are not eligible as it's bottle only I imagine.
Even more impressive is Vitus, which won 3 awards this year. It got the overall world's best wheat beer award along with the world's and Europe's best strong wheat beer. This is a weizenbock, essentially a strong wheat beer and it is strong, it's 7.7% but it does not feel it. An already massive foamy head was not helped by the agitated glass I used but it really brought out strong aromas of bubblegum, cloves and banana along with some lemon. On tasting I was immediately hit by a banana smoothie, it even had a cream mouthfeel. The alcohol makes a brief appearance but never dominates. A sweet grainy body with a spicy finish ends the experience. Again I think this is a wonderful beer but I know I have had strong wheat beers that I was more impressed by. I just can think of any offhand which means I did not rate them from a bottle, I encountered them on tap somewhere while not taking notes.
So let's compare to some equivalent bottled German wheat beers I picked up from a brewery I have not heard of before called Arcobräu.
Starting off with the Weissbier Hell, Not a fair comparison to Vitus of course but I'm looking for quality as opposed to matching the styles. Banana, clove, bubblegum and lemon on the nose. OK a similar nose to Vitus but surely the taste will be very different due to the lower ABV. Sure enough, it's no Vitus but it is rather tasty with the usual suspects of banana, clove and spices on the finish. However, as wheat beers go, it's pretty standard and does not stand out as one of the better examples but it is a solid German wheat beer so no complaints.
The Weissbier Dunkel is a much better comparison as we have the same style and ABV to contend with. The beer pours a muddy brown, similar to the Weihenstephaner except perhaps a little less appealing. Why is it when I brew a dunkel, they are much darker? I know the technical reason, I use more dark malt but should they be this murky brown? It looks like water from the river Liffey. Anyway there is little going on here. Some banana and clove but there is too much brown sugar, too much sugar in general as I found it rather sweet.
It was a decent enough beer but not a patch on the Weihenstephaner dunkel.
So, is Weihenstephaner deserving of the title? I'm not going to argue with the heavyweights that decided the result so I'm going to say yes it probably is. The best thing about Weihenstephaner is that it's readily available unlike similar beers from smaller craft breweries which can be harder to find so it's great to see a larger brewery getting things right and not compromising on quality.