Belgian Wit (white) beers have become increasingly popular the last 10-15 years and with good reason, they’re refreshing and flavorful yet can be complex enough to satisfy beer geeks, especially on a hot summer day. They also pair well with a variety of foods and are quite drinkable. Many younger craft beer aficionados started out with Blue Moon, and Belgian Wits are a fantastic foray into the micro/craft beer world for the Budweiser crowd. A lot of people don’t even know what a Belgian Wit or a micro brew is but know they enjoy a Blue Moon, Hoegaarden, or Shock Top.
Belgian Wits have crossed over to the point of being mainstream but they are in fact an ancient style of beer. They’ve been brewed in Belgium since the Middle Ages and initially utilized “gruit”– a mixture of coriander, orange peel, other spices and herbs — as flavoring. Hops were eventually added to the recipes during the late Middle Ages. The style nearly died out in the 1950’s. Fortunately in 1966, Pierre Celis, a farmer from the city of Hoegaarden, brought this ancient style back from the grave. They’ve become quite trendy in recent times especially since the introduction of Blue Moon by Coors Brewing Company in 1995.
Style wise, Belgian Wits are known for their citrus-y, spicy flavor, compliments of the coriander and orange peel. The yeast strain used contributes some aromatic and tart notes as well. These soft-bodied wheat ales are lightly hopped and not very bitter and light colored and cloudy in appearance due to the presence of suspended yeast. They should be smooth, sweet, and easy drinking.
Just like any other style of beer, Belgian Wits vary from brewer to brewer. Recently the “Battle of the Wits”, a blind Belgian Wit tasting was held at an aspiring beer reviewer’s house. The contestants included four popular Wits: Blue Moon, Hoegaarden, Shock Top, and Allagash White. Blue Moon and Shock Top represent two famous entries from Coors and Anheuser-Busch, respectively. Hoegaarden is brewed in the famous Belgian town of the same name but it’s owned by international conglomerate, In-Bev, while Allagash White is a craft brew entry from Portland, Maine.
The judges were asked to describe and write down the flavors, body, etc. of the beers. The beer reviewer insisted on blind tasting so none of the judges knew what beer they were sampling. The results turned out to be interesting, to say the least.
1st Place: Hoegaarden This Belgian original was everyone’s unanimous #1 choice; complimented on its balanced complexity, spicy coriander, orange, and clove flavors, crisp finish, and soft, silky mouthfeel. A couple of reviewers commended it as the beer that tastes like a Belgian Wit should.
2nd Place: Blue Moon Cleverly disguised as Blue Moon Brewing Company, this solid offering from Coors was every taster’s #2 choice. Attendees noted a sweet malty taste along with coriander and clove flavors. Every taster commented on how easy drinking Blue Moon was.
3rd Place: Allagash White The craft beer entry hailing out of Portland, Maine received mixed reviews and was rated either 3 or 4 by every judge. Most thought it was a good quality beer, but too dry, a little bitter and not quite up to style as the top 2.
4th Place: Shock Top Brewed by Anheuser-Busch, this macro-brew offering came in as the least favorite of the bunch and received mostly 4’s by the tasters. Most thought is tasted thin-bodied with a sweet orange taste throughout. It was described as “Orange Kool-Aid” by one taster and “one-dimensional with no complexity” by another. Most thought it would be a good first micro-type brew to sample though.
The top two were clear in this contest but each of these brews seems to have a place somewhere in the beer world.