Belgian Wit Beers, Witbieren (White Beers) or as the Walloons say, les Bière Blanches are the penultimate summer beers. These highly carbonated, unfiltered, pale, cloudy beers have a sharpness from the wheat and the carbonation. They are beers made with wheat and sometimes oats. Unlike German Weiss beers, they tend to use unmalted wheat rather than malted wheat. They are usually spiced with coriander, sometimes orange peel and a variety of other spices.
Belgian Witbieren are standard strength (4.5 to 5.5% alcohol by volume) pale colored (2-4 SRM), hazy, low to moderately hopped (8 - 20 International Bittering Units) top fermented wheat beers. German Weissbier (wheat beer) gets its spicy, fruity character from the yeast. Belgian Witbier gets it citrus and spice character from added fruit and spices.
Well into the middle ages women would make beer out of just about anything they could make bread with. Beer would at best travel walking distance from its source and would be consumed shortly after it was made. As brewing became a profession, men pushed women out of the trade and moved it from the household into the small shop. They brewed bigger batches, hops became popular as a preservative – you could ship beer several miles and drink it several days after it was made. German beer purity laws and similar laws in England forbid making beer from wheat and promoted making beer from barley. This had to do with taxes and with making sure that the local baker’s guild had enough wheat for making bread.
In wheat growing regions such as the Belgian Province of Brabant, people continued to make beer out of wheat well into the modern era. In fact, the last wit beer brewery, Tomsin, closed its doors in the Brabant village of Hoegaarden in 1955. Enter Pierre Celis. A local farmer, at the time working as a milkman had worked in the wit beer brewery in Hoegaarden. In 1965 he attempted to resurrect the ancient wit style of beer. He started out brewing in a milk tub in his father’s barn but within a year had purchased an old brewery and started selling Hoegaarden in 1966. Keep in mind, in the 19th century Hoegaarden boasted thirteen breweries so at one time “Hoegaarden” referred to a style of beer – much like Kölsch – rather than an individual brand. That said, Pierre Celis single handedly resurrected the style and had a hand in developing the beers that define it. After his original brewery burned to the ground, InBev, the mega brewer stepped in to – depending on who you ask – either kind heartedly save Hoegaarden or gobble it up. Initially InBev owned a part share in the rebuilt brewery but gradually they pressed Pierre to adopt cost cutting measures to “improve” his beer. Refusing to cut the quality of his beer, Pierre sold Hoegaarden to InBev and started a new wit brewery called Celis in Austin Texas. Celis eventually got acquired by Miller. They closed it and the Michigan Brewing Company bought the equipment and continues brewing Celis beer. Sadly, Pierre Celis passed in April, 2011.
Entrée: Lighter seafood, mild shellfish, steamed mussels, steamed clams, egg dishes, food served with lemon, crab salad, smoked salmon or trout, Dim Sum, ceviche, seafood tartare, fried calamari, fish and chips, light risottos.
Cheese: Marscapone, herb cheese spreads, young fresh cheeses, Burrata, Teleme, feta
Dessert: Orange sorbet, panna cotta with lemon
Other: Salads, basil, tomato and mozzarella salad, fruit salad