I think the best part about drinking witbier is its ability to transition through the seasons. You can drink it in the spring and the subtle floral notes will remind you of the season. The refreshing dryness will carry you through summer, and when fall hits, the spicy notes can buoy you through the evening chills. Even during the winter, when meals get more hearty, witbiers are the perfect beer to go with food.
Over the course of the last summer, I drank a lot of witbiers: wheat beers, tart wheat beers, white ales, and all kinds of variations on the spectrum, and came to the conclusion that in the world of witbiers, there are really only two kinds – Allagash White and everything else. Allagash White is a nearly perfect beer. It has just the right noticeable amount of acidity, spice that is pleasing without being overbearing, a super soft malt character, and it’s as dry as a wheat beer can be. I don’t want to gush about it too much because it should be consumed and enjoyed, not sussed over, but it needs its due before we move on.
Hoegaarden, the brewery credited with saving the style, is currently owned by AB-Inbev, but they make one of the better examples of the style. Its glowing yellow color and solid white foam could be passed off as carbonated Gatorade. The foam lasts a solid 30 seconds, but not the way 30 seconds lasts at the end of an NBA game. There’s still enough time for a buzzer beater. The aroma is a threepeat of malt, spice, and yeast. On the palate, it’s super sharp, and the great bubbles carry through the whole glass.
Blue Moon, a product of Miller-Coors, is the most popular witbier in America, but it is not a good example of the style. The milky orange-amber color and decent foam get a pass, but you smell the coriander before the beer is even out of the tap line at Coors Field. The flavor is marmalade on Wonder Bread, and I can’t imagine the sweet syrupy thickness of the body would be able to wash down a $12 hot dog. You probably need a Coors Light to wash down the residual sugar of the Blue Moon. There’s nothing subtle about this. It’s coriander pie.
St. Bernardus, the classic Belgian Wit, has a soft crushed velvet color with good thick foam. It has an aroma of white pepper, fresh cut romaine lettuce with honeysuckle, and a smudge of allspice. The flavor is a mouthful of wildflower and clover honey, with a lingering finish of wooden bucket of brackish water. This beer is Belgian, and you can tell because it smells and tastes like it hasn’t bathed in a minute. If you’re into that kink, it’s hot.
Willets Wit from Mikkeller Beer NYC is one of the flagships of the new Mikkeller in the Mets stadium at Citi Field. The color is yellow amber, with a ’70s softcore porn focus haze and clingy ex-girlfriend foam. Caramel sweet on the nose, with a little wet gym towel in the background. It’s a good nostalgic “beer” flavor, initially reminiscent of sipping grandpa’s beer while he drives the tractor, with a little ride to fruity/spicy town in the middle, and then a nice Belgian dirt bath as it slides into home.
Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat Beer is not a witbier (it’s missing some Belgian hygiene and the spicy fruity notes from orange and coriander additions), but it is a great gateway into the style. It pours slightly hazy orangey yellow in the glass with solid white foam. The honeysuckle and wet dough aroma could pass for an unspiced Wit. The flavor is slightly sweet pancake topped with honey, but with a super clean finish. It has the full body with a clean finish and subtle flavors, and aromas that Blue Moon wishes it had.
Ölgerd Icelandic White Ale from Einstök Brewing is a yellow to straw-colored ale with perfect clarity and thick white foam. It’s coriander and melon on the nose, and a great flavor of fruit cocktail, with a gentle rub of coriander on the finish. The can says coriander and orange, and it tastes like it. This beer is great in some ways (foamy fruit component is on point), but lacking in others (it’s a little thin, not dry, but lacking significant viscosity). I could probably drink a six pack on a hot day, though.
There are a lot of wits I didn’t have time or space to review that are worth your effort. White Rascal from Avery Brewing in Boulder; Hitachino Nest White Ale from Kiuchi Brewery in Japan; and Pearly Wit from Springdale Brewing in Framingham, Massachusetts, are all great beers that fit into the style. Witbier is truly a global style, on par with IPA in flavor diversity, and should be a more popular style. They are just so good.
Robbie Wendeborn is the head brewer at Svendæle Brewing in Millerton, New York. He is also a former beer plumber at Ska Brewing.