A wit to woo - what's in a witbier?
With its pale golden and often cloudy appearance and its zesty flavours, spritzy carbonation and dry finish, Belgian witbier is the perfect accompaniment to long hot days and makes for very popular summer time drinking (though, truth be told, we enjoyed it plenty on those crisp winter days not so long ago). Originating from, you guessed, that beer-making powerhouse Belgium, the “wit” in the name means, “white”, not “wheat” – so called for its pale, cloudy appearance, especially when cold.
Like our friend the saison, the witbier was just the ticket after a hard day’s tilling the fields. In fact, the more we read about these hard working Belgian farmers, the more we think they had it all figured out. Work in the sunshine all day, drink awesome beer in the evening!
Witbiers are brewed with a mash of at least 50% raw wheat. The other half is generally pale malted barley and occasionally a small amount of oats are used in the mix also. The raw wheat and oats give witbier its silky smooth mouthfeel and its delicious play of sweet and tart. Hops are generally chosen to subtly complement and enhance the other aromas and flavours rather than to feature as a defining characteristic on their own. Indeed, it’s thought that hops are a more recent addition to witbiers which would have been traditionally spiced with local ingredients to hand, called gruit. Coriander and orange peel were and continue to be the most commonly used and are what gives witbier its really distinctive profile. You might also come across cumin, ginger, chamomile and all kinds of other surprises as you try more examples of the style. Hitachino Nest White Ale, for instance, uses nutmeg along with coriander and orange peel in its brew, and the Mongozo Buckwheat White has the added nutty element of buckwheat in the mix.
You’ve probably also come across the weissbier which is like the German version of the witbeir. Like witbier, weissbier also means “white beer” and has wheat as its primary ingredient. There are a few key differences between the two styles but the main one to be aware of is that specialist strains of yeast are often used in German white beers to produce distinctive clove and banana flavours. Hefeweizen is one of our favourite of the German type and if you’re a subscriber you’ll remember the excellent Widmer Brothers Hefe we featured a couple of months back.
For November it’s witbier all the way and we are excited to be including Blackman Brewery’s Bob Wit which ups the ante on interesting additions by including toasted lemon zest and coconut late in the boil for a really intriguing array of flavours.
Wanna get your hands on one? This is the way to do it.So there you have it. We really owe those Belgian farmers. And we reckon the best way of honouring them is to enjoy a delicious summer witbier with a big plate of mussels or a pile of spaghetti vongole.