Flickr photo by wickenden, under Creative Commons License
I’m here to help you discover the fantastic world of beer outside of the mainstream. Robert Frost got it right when he extolled the wonders of taking the road less traveled…think of this as the “beer road less traveled.”
Many of you are likely familiar with the Belgian style of beer known as “white” or “wit,” but for those of you who aren’t here is a quick rundown of the latest West Chester rage.
The style originated in Belgian monasteries around the 14th century. Characterized by their pure white head, smooth, sweet taste and a hint of spice, wits often come garnished with an orange slice. They are a variant of wheat beer closely related to German wheat beers (weizen, hefe weisse, weiss bier), which are more golden in color and garnished with lemon. So, now you know. And in the immortal words of G.I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.”
Okay, now that we have the lecture portion of the article behind us, we can get to the good stuff. Hoegaarden and Blue Moon are well-known industry standards, likely because they are the only two wits distributed nationwide. That and the breweries have nice-sized budgets to push their respective brand.
So, where does that leave Chester County? It just so happens that we are smack in the middle of perhaps the best area of the country for sampling the beer road offerings. Although not all of the following wit beers are from this area, they are all available here. Here are my recommendations for wit beer bliss…
Midnight Wit – Legacy Brewing Company, Reading, PA
Legacy is the only local–and by local I mean Philadelphia metro area–brewery to have a wit as one of their flagship styles (brewed and readily available all the time). Midnight is an excellent representation of the wit styles – smooth, but yet a bit spicy. It definitely stands on its own, though you can throw the orange in there if you want. Not many bars carry this on tap or in bottle, but Midnight cases are available at most distributors in the county. And for those Hoegaarden fans out there, Midnight is significantly cheaper by the case.
Witte – Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY [www.ommegang.com]
Okay. Funny name, different spelling of wit; something has to be up, right? Kind of. Brewery Ommegang is a craft brewery from New York with a twist. This unique brewery (they only brew Belgian styles) is connected to Duval, an actual Belgian brewery. Not only do they exclusively produce Belgian styles, they produce the BEST Belgian styles not made by Trappist Monks on the other side of the Atlantic! So, what about Witte? Amazing, authentic wit beer, smooth, smooth, smooth! Not quite as much spice as most American versions of the beer, so for those who prefer a subtler wit, this one is for you. Like Midnight, it is a flagship style and, unfortunately like Midnight, not usually available in bars; however, most distributors carry it. It’s a bit pricier than Hoegaarden, but well worth it for the connoisseurs out there. The nice twist is that it comes in both 12-oz and 25-oz bottles.
Whirlwind Wit – Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA [www.victorybeer.com]:
Our hometown boys, Victory! Although the guys from Victory are German-trained, they have mastered this Belgian style to bring Brussels to Berwyn. Whirlwind is a wonderful representation of a wit beer and, like the name suggests, it is by no means a calm, laidback wit. It has a spicy kick that blends well with the beer’s natural sweetness without overpowering it, adding distinct character while staying true to the wit style. Of the three beers here, you have the best chance of finding this one at your local watering hole, and price wise it is comparable to Midnight; however, unlike the other beers, this is a seasonal variety available from April through August. No need to fret; it’ll be here before you know it!
There you have it! Now, don’t get me wrong. Although an excellent, readily available introduction to the style, these are by no means the only wit beers out there. Despite the inordinate amount of time I spend drinking and talking about beer, I am merely one man and cannot cover the earth. If you have any others that you enjoy, please let us know!