Matt’s Myriad of Beer Styles #12 – Witbier

Regular readers may recall that in edition #10 of this column, we looked at wheat beers and, more specifically, the German version – Weizenbier. Wheat beers are top-fermented (like ale) and, unsurprisingly, contain a high proportion of wheat to malted barley (usually about 50:50). There are two main types of wheat beer – Weizenbier and Witbier.

As we have already looked at Weizenbier, we’ll take a look at its Belgian/Dutch cousin this time – Witbier – which means “white beer” in Dutch. Belgian versions of the style are sometimes also made with raw, un-malted wheat and the beers of the style generally have a slightly sour taste due to lactic acid or acetic acid being present.

Whilst Witbiers are very pale in colour (although not quite white – that’s milk!), as mentioned before, “wheat” actually has the same etymological root as “white” in most West Germanic languages, including English, which explains the link between “white” and “wheat”. Also known as Bière Blanche, Bière de Froment (French for wheat beer) and Tarwebier (Flemish for what beer), the beer can look white-ish(!) when cold, due to the suspended yeast and yeast proteins within. The yeast content also results in some secondary fermentation when stored.

Witbiers are based on the Belgian tradition of using coriander seeds and orange peel in the recipe, which, together with the aforementioned appearance, makes them quite distinctive. They have a spicy nose, tart and refreshing flavour and a clean, bitter-sweet finish. The style is said to have descended from the medieval style of Gruit, where beers were flavoured and preserved with spices and plants, instead of hops.

Probably the most famous Wit is produced by Hoegaarden Brewery (5%) of Belgium, which is, as with most Belgian beers, served in its own distinctive style of glass – usually 250ml. If serving an unfiltered wheat beer from a bottle, it is recommended that you hold the glass on an angle and pour slowly. With about 10% or 15% of the contents left, you should swirl the bottle smoothly in order to suspend the yeast in the liquid, then add it to the glass. Apparently, this improves the flavour, aroma and appearance of the beer. Sometimes, the beer is served with a slice of lemon as an accompaniment.

Other famous Wits include Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4%) from Denver, Colorado and Camden Town Camden Gentleman’s Wit (4.3%) from London, both of which are reasonably easy to come across in pubs/bars, off licences and supermarkets.

Regional examples of the style that I have had the pleasure of supping are Bad Seed Wild Seed (5.1%) (Summer 2016), Brass Castle Brewtalism (5.2%) (June 2016), Brass Castle Yorkshire Wit (5.2%) (September 2014), Eyes Brewing/Revolutions Brewing Weiss Stripes (4.5%) (May 2017), Northern Monk Bombay Dazzler (4.8%) (the house beer of Bundobust beer bar & Indian restaurant in Leeds) and York Brewery The Taste of Purple (4.2%) (August 2015).

Previously, I mentioned Eyes Brewing. The guys are currently brewing at Ainsty Ales in Acaster Malbis, just outside York, and at Bradford Brewery in, er, Bradford. Eyes believe that they are the UK’s first wheat brewery and the first wheat-focused brewery to open since the mid-20th century, so they naturally have an allegiance to Witbier and Weizenbier, if you fancy looking them up.

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