May 25th, 2010
The First Sip: Beating the Heat with Witbier
The First Sip is a virtual beer flight written by Brian Royo, the brewer out at No Label Brewing Company. He will select a beer style, pick a few craft or micro brews that he’s been sampling, and discuss what he likes about them. For the beer connoisseurs, it’ll be a unique chance to hear a local brewer’s thoughts on what makes these beers great. For the novices and aspiring beer knurds, he’ll walk you through what you should be looking for in a good beer and offer some suggestions on quality suds for you palette.
For the next few articles, we will take a look at the world of wheat beers. There are many different styles of Wheat Beers like Weizen/Weissbiers, Dunkelweizens, Weizenbocks and Witbiers. All are unique and vary in taste, color, aroma, etc.
This week we will concentrate on Witbiers. There are three reasons for this. First, the Katy Cane Island Aler’s Homebrew Club brewed a nice batch of Wit this past Saturday, but we unfortunately missed it. The pictures on Facebook show they had a good time brewin’. Secondly, we happen to live in Katy/Houston. At about this time of year it can get…well…..really damn hot! Wit style beers make a refreshing summer beer to combat those sweltering summer days. Finally, this is one of my wife’s (Jennifer) favorite beers, which means she will be helping me write this.
What is a Witbier, you ask? A Witbier, or Wit, is a Belgian style Ale brewed using at least 50% wheat. The name comes from the suspended yeast in the beer, which gives it a whitish color when light reflects off of it. Witbier literally means “white beer.” The Witbier style has been around for over 400 years and originated in Belgium. The original witbiers were not brewed with hops but with gruit, a combination of spices, flowers and herbs. Nowadays, hops are added along with different spices.
Witbiers are typically light to medium body with low to no hop flavor or aroma. The color is very pale, cloudy with a thick white head. High carbonation levels give them a little bit of a bite and crispness. The use of coriander seeds, orange peels, and other spices is very common giving these beers their refreshing tastes. Hints of banana are noticeable but should not be overwhelming. Orange or lemon slices are often added in America, but this practice is frowned upon by beer aficionados. These beers do not age well and should be enjoyed fresh.
For the beer comparisons, we decided to try Hoegaarden Witbier, Blanche De Bruxelles and Harpoon’s UnFiltered Offering (UFO) White Beer. These were the only Witbier’s available at the local liquor store. We tried to get the wit from 512 Brewing Co (Austin) but were unable to find it.
Blanche De Bruxelles. 4.5% ABV. The lightest color of three, it is a very pale yellow. The aroma is a little spicy, citrusy, but overall very light. The taste is refreshing, easy to drink with hints of coriander and orange peel and a good aftertaste. If you are looking for a beer with a lot of flavor, this is not the beer. It is very light and easy to drink, almost to the point of being watered down. It makes for the perfect beer to enjoy on a hot steamy August day in Houston. In bars, it can easily be identified by it’s unique tap handle: a little chubby guy holding his willy.
Hoegaarden Witbier….(pronounced who-gar-den).4.9% ABV. It’s a little darker than the Blanche with a spicier smell and taste. It seems to have a little bit of bite to it. There is definitely a phenolic (medicine) taste to it. This is not a bad taste or a knock on the beer. This taste is typical of Witbier’s. The Hoegaarden is refreshing but not as easily drinkable than Blanche. As a representative of Witbiers, this is a better wit than the Blanche and was our favorite of the beers we sampled.
Harpoon’s UFO White. 4.8% ABV, 10 IBU. Wow, our first sip was not what we were expecting. It had a strong citrus aroma with a medium light body. It was sweeter and had more malt flavor than the other two. We did not find the spicy, coriander flavor that we were expecting. Completely different flavor than the Hoegaarden and Blanche but still surprisingly refreshing. This was a good wit but not as good as the Hoegaarden, but Jennifer preferred it to the Blanche De Bruxelles.
If you are looking for a good beer to drink on a hot summer day, we would definitely recommend a Witbier. Next article we get into Hefeweizen’s and take a look at a few local brewers that make these style of beers. Till next time.
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