Witbier has been quenching thirsts and pleasing palates for the better part of half a millennium. You might modern iterations under Bière Blanche, Witte, Wit or simply White Beer. Regardless of how a brewery decides to name it, you can be sure that it’ll be a delicious mix of inviting aromas and refreshing flavours.
Witbier was first brewed during the 14th century, somewhere in what is today Belgium and the Netherlands. Originally the recipe did not include hops and the beer was brewed with a blend of spices sourced locally and via Dutch traders.
It grew increasingly popular in the centuries that followed, with the Belgian towns of Leuven and Hoegaarden emerging as the main centres for brewing. Originally the flavour profile was quite sour thanks to lactic acid created during the fermentation process. This was gradually removed and hops began to be included as European palates shifted towards cleaner pilsner style beer.
Orange peel and coriander became hallmarks of the style, while the blend of remaining spices varied immensely from brewery to brewery.
Witbier all but disappeared in the wake of the Second World War, until it re-emerged in the mid-1960s thanks to Belgian dairy farmer turned brewer Pierre Celis. Pierre’s modern interpretation led to the Witbier returning to Belgian breweries and shaped our contemporary understanding of the style.
Witbier is typically quite cloudy in appearance and pours a hefty head thanks to the wheat component. The aroma can include inviting notes of peppy spices, tangy orange, hints of honey, coriander, and plenty of classic bready wheat. I find the palate generally echoes the aroma, with vibrant spices, grainy bread, zesty orange, and a rapidly fading light to moderate degree of tartness. Take extra care with Witbier by ensuring you do not leave it to age and source it from places that keep it stored cold.
Most beers of the style are around the 5% mark, but it is not uncommon for hoppy versions, marketed as White IPA, to be slightly higher around the 6-7% mark.
Finding yourself some Witbier is generally not very difficult, with notable examples brewed across the world and throughout New Zealand. The style turns up around spring and heading into summer, with plenty of places brewing limited seasonal brews.
Emporium’s Get To Da Chopper jumps to mind as an easy recommendation, featuring classic coriander and refreshing citrus flavours. Plus, it placed in the top 30 at the New World Beer and Cider Awards in both 2019 and 2021. Double Vision make a tasty classic Wit Dream and a flavour crazy Double Magic Guava Wit Beer, brewed with loads of guava puree.
Garage Project’s Petit Rayon de Soleil, with grapefruit and rhubarb, Hallertau’s Boric Tangelo Witbier, made with locally sourced tangelos, and Three Sister’s Lila Juniper Witbier are also all well worth tasting. Internationally you can turn to the likes of classic Hoegaarden, Allagash White, and St Bernadus Wit.