Beer Camp: The Witbier

Like many Americans, in my early days of beer-drinking, I had only tasted lagers (Yuengling, Red Stripe) with an occasional IPA (Sierra Nevada) thrown in. Drinking beer was a soulless and tasteless endeavor and left me feeling full and not that satisfied. Because I was not yet indoctrinated into the magic of hops, I found IPAs to be bitter and unpleasant and lagers to be bland and gassy. Then I met the witbier and thus began my love affair with Bier de Belgique.

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Exemplified by the ubiquitous Hoegaarden, this style of ale is very pale and cloudy. It is straw in color and often has a thick head with gads of heavenly lace. Because it is light and usually very refreshing, witbier (White Ale) was once found only in the spring and summer months. But brewery marketing teams caught on to its popularity with novice beer drinkers and ladies. Now it is common to find this style of ale during all seasons. Some American craft brewers have taken to brewing what they call ‘winter whites,” which I find basically indiscernible from regular whites, except they usually have snowy scenes on the beer labels. In order to amp it up a little bit and make this style attractive to the veterans, brewing companies have also taken to creating juiced up “Double Whites,” which pack more alcoholic punch than your average witbier.

Often beer snobs eschew what they call ‘yellow beer.’ What they are usually referring to is American macrobrew swill like Coors Light or Miller Light. These beers tend to be fairly low in both alcohol and flavor. They are lager styles, which are bottom-fermented at much cooler temperatures, and are often brewed at quick speeds with sugar to speed up the process. Not so of Witbier, which while it is definitely yellow in color, is a type of top-fermenting ale which, brewed at higher temperatures, often has layers of complexity and flavor. The typical witbier has a distinct citrus nose with a ‘wheaty’ body and spices like nutmeg, coriander and orange peel (sometimes they can be pimped out with florals and exotic spices).

5 Wits worth Trying

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Black Cat Approved

1. St. Bernadus Witbier, Brouwerij St. Bernardus NV, Belgium 
If you are going through life trying things of all categories one at a time and you made it all the way to “W” for Witbier, well congratulations because you have been a lot more productive than I have! So it’s time to pick a Witbier and you have just this one chance. For the best and classiest example of the style go with St. Bernadus Witbier from Brouwerij St. Bernadus. One of the original Trappist breweries of Belgium, St. Bernadus produces some heavy hitters. Their Bernadus 12, which is a quadruple ale, might actually be my favorite beer of all time. And then there is the magical unicorn of Belgian beer, Westveletern, which you can only purchase at the monastery so only those of us lucky enough to have traveled to the holy land have had this opportunity. As a perfect execution of the style– extremely thirst-quenching with a heady bouquet of citrus, coriander and a bready yeast and very clean taste–St. Bernadus Witbier shows exactly how boring Blue Moon is.

Other Notable Witbiers

2. Allagash White, Allagash Brewing Company, Portland, ME

3. Red & White, Dogfish Head Brewery, DE

4. Little White Lie, Russian River Brewing Company, CA

5. Blanche de Chambly, Unibroue, Canada