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Witbier – the Belgian hop-brewed gold

The fragrance of orange peel, pimento and coriander: it starts to conjure up thoughts of Christmas, doesn’t it? So now you might be expecting some punch or some mulled wine – but no, we’re talking about a beer. To be precise, a Belgian specialty called “Witbier”.

Light-yellow and slightly cloudy, it flows into the full-bellied beer glass. Traditionally, it’s not drunk from a wheat-beer glass like our classical German wheat beer, but from a full-bellied pilsner glass. A discreet lemony fragrance is discernible as soon as you start pouring. The head is somewhat finer and lighter than that of a German wheat beer and the taste is different, too. It comes across as slightly fruity, refreshing and at the same time a bit tart – this light-coloured, not-too-strong beer that’s traditionally produced from raw wheat and malted barley.

Originally, by the way, the Belgian wheat beer comes from the village of Hoegaarden, in Flemish-Brabant. Here, in the 14th and 15th centuries, the monks of Hoegaarden experimented with this very tart beer by adding various spices in order to render the beverage tastier. But unfortunately, during the 1950s when pilsner and lager became progressively better-known and their sales soared, its popularity suffered a significant decline in Belgium. Which meant this wonderful beer fell into oblivion for quite a time. We owe the second wave of awareness for this beer, by the way, to the milkman Piere Celis, who in the 1960s brewed a Witbier using the original recipe – with overwhelming success. He thereupon set up his own small brewery, called “De Kluis”, and ensured that Belgian wheat beer became almost globally known once again. Without the bold milkman and the residents of Hoegaarden, this piece of Belgian beer culture would presumptively have been lost for ever.

The Belgian village of Hoegaarden has over the course of time become a veritable Witbier-stronghold, with more than 36 breweries. Today, though, it’s primarily the Hoegaarden Brewery, owned by InBev, that embodies this unique style of beer to consummate perfection.

With an abv of around five per cent, the Witbier is as light as a pilsner, by the way, and is thus a superb accompaniment to hearty Belgian dishes. And for lots of fish recipes, too, it unveils its potential as a complement to fine food.

After about 20 minutes, however, the fresh-sparkling taste experience is already all but gone. Unfortunately. The final sips are already starting to taste stale – next time, I suppose, I should drink a bit faster. But all in all a pretty quaffable little beer, I think :-).

These three German Witbiers are well worth a try:

Ratsherrn Moby Wit

Kühnes Blondes Kühn Kunz Rosen

Köstritzer Witbier


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