Spaten-Franziskaner-Brau is a brewery in Munich that dates back to 1397. It’s just under four centuries shy of being the oldest operating commercial brewery in the world; that title goes to fellow Bavarian brewery Weihenstephan Abbey of Freising, Germany, which opened up shop in 1040.
If you haven’t taken a wild guess already, the Germans know a thing or two about brewing.
But that’s another story. Back to Spaten-Franziskaner-Brau, or more specifically, the Franziskaner part of the three-pronged name. Franziskaner is the more popular and commercially successful of the brewery’s brands here in the United States, with the Franziskaner Weissbier being a shining example of what can happen when Germans make their own hefeweizen.
The Franziskaner Weissbier is an exceptional brew. It pours a beautiful, cloudy orange that skews more to the yellow end of the spectrum, as do most hefeweizens. It sports notes of orange and lemon zest as well as a little bit of banana, also typical to most hefeweizens.
The difference between Franziskaner and a Belgian hefeweizen, though, is the level of spice and almost smokiness present in the brew. On first taste it seems to be in the same wheelhouse as a Hoegaarden or Leffe, but the tail end of the taste brings with it a fullness of spice otherwise absent in Belgian hefeweizen.
I find the Franziskaner a delightfully flavorful beer, one that most people I share it with seem surprised by when they taste it. As a German beer, they expect it to be more robust, but it being a hefeweizen, they don’t really know what to expect. The citrus flavors are extremely prevalent and definitely drive the flavor of this beer, but the spices going on in this brew separate it from the rest of the pack.
There’s only one problem with the Franziskaner: it’s a little heavy, a little too thick to be a session beer, even though it clocks in at just 5.0 percent ABV. Of course as I write this I’m on my third of the night, so what do I know? There’s a palpable thickness to this brew, one that becomes apparent when you try to drink a few in a shorter amount of time. If you try to down these as you would a few Yuenglings or something similarly light, you’ll end up being the one at the friendly gathering burping way too much.
There’s not an abundance of complexity in this beer; it’s hardly challenging, which I think is part of the appeal. With the influx of hop-heavy brews driving trends in micro-brewing and India pale ales running the table in 2013, this year feels like the year actually enjoying your beer has made a comeback.
Franziskaner is by no means a new brew, but it’s a beer that toes the fine line between being employing a simplistic flavor palate and still being a sophisticated beer choice. With a Franziskaner you can impress your friends and still enjoy the beverage you’re consuming, unlike a potent IPA or a particularly strong stout.
My recommendation? Buy a six-pack of Franziskaner when you plan to cook a good, hearty meal. Drink one while you cook — be careful! — and then drink another with your food. With the first you enjoy the flavor profiles going on in this marginally complex hefeweizen, and with the second you get to bask in the refreshing qualities of Franziskaner Weissbier, a beer well-served for most any occasion and palate.