Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Beer Style of the Week – Witbier (White Beer) – French (la bière blanche)

Week 21

Looks like we missed a week, due to many factors, mainly concerning the author was busy drinking the beer without actually writing about the beer (he always take notes, at least).

Summer is finally here in New England and we can look forward to a wide variety of beers that are better suited to hot dog days in the sun. Light German-style Lagers, Kölch, Crisp Pilsners, Summer Ryes, English Bitters and even mild Porters and Stouts may fill the bill (they can be quite refreshing!)

This week we focus on a style that should be in the Top 3 all time of Summer Beers. The Wit, or Biere Blanche. If you go to any beer rating website you will find a very wide range of reviews and comments concerning White Ales. There seems to be a love it or hate it, or a complete indifference to it (especially the French versions). They are a very distinctive and unique ale style. Comparing them to any other style of beer does them an injustice. Don’t even bother sampling a Wit after downing an IPA or any hoppy, or high ABV beer. You’ll totally miss the point. Go at them with a clean palette and an open mind and chances are you’ll come back for more.

Witbier is a very hazy pale (whiteish) unfiltered, top fermenting beer, generally brewed with a high percentage of wheat in the mash. A mix of light oats are sometimes thrown into the kettles for added sweetness and/or body. Oftentimes known as White Beer, the Wit is spiced and flavored with citrus peel, coriander, pepper, ginger and/or a bit of bitter orange. A good Witbier has subtle flavor and aroma profiles. Nothing should jump out a grab our taste buds by the neck. Instead, we have the pleasure of seeking and finding a refreshing and highly drinkable beer. Many proper beer bars will offer a wedge of lemon or lime on the side to squeeze into the glass. An improper bar squeezes the citrus and leaves the wedge in your glass. THIS IS WRONG! To squeeze or not to squeeze should be left up to the customer.

Witbiers should be fairly low in alcohol at 4% - 5.2% ABV. Trappist Wits and Double Wits have more alcoholic punch and should not be considered Summer-time, lawn-mowing beers. We do want you to keep all of your toes attached to your feet, after all. German Berliner Weisse and Hefe Weisse are different, separate styles and will be profiled in a later article.

Wits pair very well with mild creamy cheeses, fresh mixed salads, shellfish, grilled fish or chicken. Try it with Middle Eastern foods such as Hummus, Minty Tabouli, Grilled Eggplant and Falafel.

Belgium and France (Land of Origin)

Hoegaarden Original - Brouwerij van Hoegaarden – Hoegaarden, Belgium – 4.9% ABV

At first glance you wonder if the waitress accidentally brought a tulip-shaped glass of milky yellow dishwater to your table. Then, oh yeah! This is the White Ale I ordered. It just looks the way it's supposed to! The cloudy pale, off white, tinted yellow color reveals a light body. Whiffs of clove and hop aroma with a trace of alcohol rise up. High in complex bitter hops with citrus undertones. Extra Dry. Fine Carbonation with a fizzy head and fine lace. Very sharp and spicy.

Amadeus Biere Blanche – Les Brasseurs de Gayant – Douai Cedex, France – 4.5% ABV

750 ml Corked bottle. Freshness date stamped on back. Served in a tall Weisse Glass.

It pours a hazy milky lemonade color with a very fast-fading snowy white head. Some thin wispy lacing trails down and dissolves.

Nice lemony and peppery smells rise at first pour. A light smell of bread dough, cloves and orange zest inch forward. Is that cardamom in the distance?

The flavors mirror the aromas in nearly every way. The tart, astringent lemon taste is perhaps a bit too over the top, but it does cut through and declare its dominance.

An odd peppery saline is noticed in the after taste, and then seems to vanish. It could be the bottom of bottle sediment. I need to try this one again to be sure.


Estrella Damm Inedit – Barcelona, Spain – 4.8% ABV

26.4 oz. dark olive green bottle. Freshness date stamped on neck label.

Listed as a Witbier, more like a mild farmhouse.

The color is an opaque, foggy caramel candy with a rocky, firm white head. Patchy and trailing lace lasts throughout the glass.

Aromas of herbs and flowers are present at first pour. Smells of coriander and citrus follow and remain. A light whiff of wet cut grass seems out of place. A hint of banana sneaks in late. The flavors are mild yet distinct. Orange Tang, herbs, and a little wheat in the background. Tastes of tart Chardonnay, citrus peel and limes are very pleasant. As in the aroma, a slight taste of banana is noticed as it warms.

This is a very gulpable brew! Complex, but subtle. Unusual and difficult to compare.

Nice fringe beer, but pricey!

Netherlands Biere De Blanche

Wieckse Witte – De Ridder Brewery – Maastricht, Netherlands – 5% ABV

I ordered this Biere Blanc (White Beer) at a bar in Belgium and of course, assumed it was brewed in Belgium. I didn't find out until I returned home and looked it up to complete my notes. Oh well! This cloudy gold brew has more body than I expected. The medium hops have grapefruit-like and citrusy bitterness. A clovey aroma is quite noticeable. Clove-like flavors dominate while a faint hint of camphor can be tasted. Overall this is a delicate, yet flavorful and balanced beer. Quite drinkable.

New England Whites

Allagash White – Portland, Maine – 5.2% ABV 12 oz. Stubby brown bottle. Served in a fluted Weizen beer glass.
It pours a cloudy lemony creamy off-yellow color with a full frothy, fluffy white head and loads of clingy lacing.
The smell is a clean mix of fresh bread dough, citrusy lemon zest, spices, cloves, and citrusy hops. A faint smell of green banana and a wisp of vodka trail.
The flavors are amazingly balanced as well. Tart citrus, oranges, wheat malt, citrusy hops and a mix of spices, most notably white pepper and coriander mingle together nicely.
The mouthfeel has a slightly astringent tang to it, though it seem to have a thirst cutting effect.
This White can hang with the French and Belgian Wits any day!

Long Trail White – Bridgewater Corners, Vermont – 4.7% ABV

12 oz. brown bottle - Served in a Sam Adams fluted glass.

It' got the cloudy Witbier off-yellow color, but the head fades rather quickly.

The aroma is subdued for the style, with not much in the way of citrus or spiciness. A little lime smell. A bit of malt. Not much else.

The flavor department is much the same.

I'm afraid that the brewers were trying to be too careful not to go crazy with the spiciness and the edgy citrus and orange flavors, but in doing so they have missed the point of the Witbier.

But all that aside, I like this beer as palette cleanser. It's sort of a nice beer to keep on hand for newbies to the style as an entry level Belgian White.

Samuel Adams White Ale is a very worthy Summer Seasonal Offering

Harpoon’s UFO White may be the most popular of all New England White Ales. Cisco’s White Lady is also an easy-to-find- White and is available in cans ( think boating, camping and beach!)

Viva la Biere de Blanche!!!


Quote: “May Ninkasi (Sumerian Goddess of Intoxicating Beverages) live with you,

Let her pour your beer everlasting.

My sister, your grain – its beer is tasty, my comfort” – Sumerian greeting

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