One of the perks of spewing your beer brain onto a white page every couple of weeks is that people occasionally give you beer and suggest you write a column about it. One of my colleagues came back from a trip to Alaska in mid-October with a six-pack of Alaskan Wit, so I figured I’d do a comparison with other wit beers. That’s the best way to make use of the brain part of your head when tasting beer; call it mindful drinking.
The Belgian wit beers are called “wit” because the beer is cloudy. The cloudiness is due the unfiltered nature of the beer, leaving yeast, starch from the unmalted wheat and proteins from the grains to hang out.
Belgian wits are refreshing, highly effervescent session beers with a slight twang from the raw wheat. A subtle use of curacao orange peel and coriander seed, as well as byproducts from the action of the Belgian yeast strain, gives the beer a spicy character. Hop use is restrained.
This style has been around since the Middle Ages but briefly went comatose in 1957 when the last wit beer brewer in the town of Hoegaarden closed down. However, in 1966, a Belgian milkman, Pierre Celis, started commercially brewing the wit style again, naming his beer after the town Hoegaarden. He died in 2011 at the age of 86, knowing that he had resurrected an important piece of brewing history and helped popularize a lost beer style and Anheuser Busch continues brewing Hoegaarden.
The four beers I sampled are available at the Whitehorse liquor store, except the Alaskan Wit, which you can pick up in Alaska, obviously.
Here are the results:
Hoegaarden (Anheuser Busch InBev)
Aroma: Candy, clove, floral and spicy with some breadiness. Flavour: Light body, citrusy, slight tang from wheat, light spice, low hop and very subtle bittering finish. Refreshing. Result: The Gold Standard for the style.
Blanche de Chambly (Unibroue)
Aroma: Spicy, powdered unsweetened koolaid and some fruit. Flavour: Very light body, slightly sweet, citrusy, subtle twang, some mild bittering hops. Result: Decent beer although the aroma has some strange notes. Drink it if you can’t find Hoegaarden.
Estrella Damm Inedit (Damm S. A.)
This is a Spanish beer that says it is a “malt and wheat beer brewed with spices” and it is brewed with wheat, coriander and orange peel, so I included it in the tasting. Aroma: Malty grainy notes, baked aroma, pleasant stewed fruit but no Belgian character. Earthy and musty, but in a good way. Flavour: Sweet tasty malt, very low hop bitterness, creamy, no Belgian character. Result: A tasty, interesting beverage, but not a true Belgian wit.
Alaskan Wit (Alaskan Brewing Co.)
Aroma: Bubblegum, candy, fruit, soap and hop aroma. Aromas seem to be fighting each other. Flavour: Viscous mouth feeling, sweet bubblegum, fruity, high hop bitterness for the style. No Belgian character in the flavour. Result: Drinkable. It’s not a bad beer, but it falls short of the true style and has some flavour clashes.
I have to give this tasting to Hoegaarden even though, according to Pierre Celis, the recipe has been changed to make the beer more palatable for the mass market. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the Estrella Damm Inedit. It is a beer I wanted to keep drinking because of its interesting flavours – a sign of a well-made beer. And that’s good enough for me.