AS THE HEAT of summertime rolls into Savannah a thirst quenching beers become important to have in the fridge. One of the best styles to have on hand is a Belgian Wit.
Traditionally brewed in the Flemish areas east of Brussels centered around the town of Hoegaarden, wits are primarily known for having high wheat barley content of at least 50 percent, and the use of spices as a preservative and flavoring agent.
The most common spices used are coriander, bitter orange peel and chamomile. Wits are a style is linked to gruits, beers made before the introduction of hops, and the style very nearly disappeared when hops become dominant as a brewing ingredient.
Thanks to a man named Pierre Celis, the style didn’t die out. Celis grew up in Hoegaarden and missed having easy access to the old style.
In a classic home brewer tale, he brewed up his own wit, and by 1966 was working on the production level. Celis eventually moved to the United States, bringing his recipe with him and spreading the word of wit beers.
Often called wheat beers in the U.S. the moniker wit beer actually comes from the pale white color produced by the combination of the heavy yeast and wheat content. All variations on a theme, wits come under a lot of names.
Wit bier is Belgian, bier de blanche is French, weißbier in German and in the U.S. you’ll see the term white beer in addition to wheat beer.
The great thing about wits is that they can be a great introduction beer for your non craft beer drinkers. Wits can be mild in flavor or have a fruity flavor that make them very approachable for those that have only had mixed drinks or pale lagers. Wits can have a lot of flavor, so the there is room to grow within the style.
If you want to give a Belgian wit a try or maybe use them to introduce a friend to the joys of craft beer, there are plenty of options available in Savannah.
Portland, Maine based Allagash Brewing’s White is the benchmark wit. It hits all the traditional flavors associated with wits’ like coriander and orange peel which meld well with the banana notes of the Belgian yeast. Allagash markets White as brewed with a hose “secret spice.” There are many thoughts on what that spice is but chamomile is the odds on favorite.
Westbrook White Thai
Brewed just up the road in Charleston, S.C., is Westbrook’s White Thai. Westbrook had taken a fun spin with the traditional wit. Forgoing the orange peel and coriander Westbrook replaced them with Asian cuisine inspired flavors of lemongrass and ginger. The slightly spicy result is a flavorful but refreshing brew.
Southern Tier 3 Citrus Peel Out Imperial Wit
The defining characteristic of 3 Citrus Peel Out are it’s mix of citrus peel and the ABV. Southern Tier trades the traditional bitter orange peel for tangerine and grapefruit peel and then fermenting with blood orange juice. 3 Citrus is a nice balance of the citrus peel bitterness and the sweetness imparted through the blood orange. “Imperial” beers typically carry a larger alcohol punch, 3 Citrus Peel out is no exception but because it’s a wit the ABV caps out at 8.5%. Still that’s a hefty for a wit and the sweetness masks that alcohol so be carful with this one.
Moon River Wild Wacky Wit
Moon River Brewing Company’s Wild Wacky Wit is an easy drinking 4.1% ABV. It carries with it all the traditional Belgian wit with chamomile as a defining flavor.
Southbound Scattered Sun
Scattered Sun Belgian Wit, at 5.1% has the highest ABV of all the non imperial beers discussed here but is still low enough to be refreshing on a hot Savannah summer day. Scattered Sun is a solid rendering of the Belgian wit but brings some lemon flavor that are not as apparent in the other beers on this list.
Service Brewing will offer up a wit as its summer seasonal this year. Look for a full story on that beer in coming weeks.