Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).
Our first Belgian style spotlight is going to be on Witbier (“white beer”). If you set aside the ubiquity of Stella Artois (a Pilsner), it is more than likely that Witbier is the most popular Belgian beer style in the United States. Much of this is due to another mass-produced and mass-market Ale, the MillerCoors-produced Blue Moon. Through the proliferation of Blue Moon, interest and demand for Witbiers has skyrocketed and craft brewers have stepped up with amazing examples of the style to rival the classics.
Witbier is a style of beer made with wheat along with barley (and occasionally oat), whose yeast and proteins combine to give it a cloudy white haze that led to the style’s name. The origins of Witbier can be found in non-hopped Ales that were common in the medieval era, specifically Gruit. Gruit featured the use of spices, herbs and occasionally fruits for flavor and as natural preservative before the usage of hops became common. The vast majority of Witbier produced today follows this tradition and uses some blend of coriander, cardamom, and orange peel. The flavors of Witbier are fresh and vibrant, with lively carbonation that rejuvenates and excites the palate. Witbier seems tailor-made for warm weather months, but their endearing character is welcome year-round.
The best Belgian Witbier examples today are the ones from St. Bernardus along with La Grande Blanche from De Proef, or Wittekerke which is a great everyday Wit if you can find it. The most easily found Belgian Wit remains Hoegaarden, which can be procured almost everywhere beers are sold these days and can provide a good introduction to the style.
Funny enough, it’s been the American breweries that have taken Witbier into the 21st century. There are some very traditional (Allagash White, the seasonal Ommegang Witte, Canadian brewery Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly) styles of Witbier out there that are well worth your time, as they are incredibly well made and standout beers. Alexandria’s own Port City Brewery has a great one in their Optimal Wit. Craft Witbiers that tweak the style a bit include Bell’s Winter White (which eschews the Gruit elements of Wit to focus on a smooth feel that sacrifices no refreshment) and of course Dogfish Head who put out both Namaste, using dried orange slices and lemongrass, and Red & White which blends a strong Wit with Pinot Noir juice and sees partial aging in Pinot barrels.
No matter which Witbier you decide on, just do me one favor: skip the slice of lemon or orange, will you? Everything you need is in the glass, and if it isn’t you need a new beer in that glass, not a garnish.
Nick Anderson keeps a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx.