DRAFT PICKS: The taste of white ales

One of the beers reviewed today is an excellent example of a witbier.

Witbiers or white ales are excellent beers to offer guests who may not be craft beer aficionados, and may be a bit skeptical about drifting away from the Bud Light/Miller Light genre.

Witbiers are generally lighter in taste than many ales, and many are almost fruity in nature.

Witbiers (or Belgian-style white ales) are usually a rich yellow color and are more often than not a touch hazy and even cloudy. This cloudiness gives white ales their name, with a bit of “suspended” yeast creating a white shade of color in the brew — especially when cold.

They are almost always flavored with some combination of spices — very often with citrus zests, and quite often with coriander.

Witbiers pack just a touch of a bite, and are usually well carbonated all of which make for a refreshing drink. They are often a smidge on the sour side thanks to the use of lactic acid in the brewing process.

This is a ever-increasing popular style of brew in the U.S. with many, many local smaller breweries making a name for themselves with a well-designed witbier recipe.

Following are some of the best selling and most popular witbiers — or Belgian-style white ales — marketed locally as determined by the good folks at Beer Advocate.

Blue Moon Belgian White — Coors Brewing Company

Hoegaarden Original White Ale — Brouwerij van Hoegaarden

Allagash White — Allagash Brewing Company

Shock Top Belgian White — Anheuser-Busch

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat — Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company

Blanche De Chambly — Unibroue

White Rascal — Avery Brewing Company

Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier — Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)

Ommegang Witte — Brewery Ommegang

Samuel Adams White Ale — Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)

Red & White — Dogfish Head Brewery

Namaste — Dogfish Head Brewery

Bell’s Winter White Ale — Bell’s Brewing Company


Blue Point Blueberry

Blue Point Brewing Company

Patchogue, N.Y.

Blue Point’s Blueberry is a very refreshing, decidedly delicious brew that combines the best traits of a good fruit beer while not being as cloying and hyper-syrupy as some of this style tend to be.

Blue Point pours crisp and clear, and classic yellow colored beer with surprising little fizziness and not much head to speak of whatsoever. What little foam does collect is clean and white, but disappears quickly.

This is a delicious smelling brew. There is a very crisp, fresh, fruity scent with just a tinge of wheat-maltiness. The blueberry aroma is quite pronounced, and quite enjoyable.

At first wash, one is quick to discover the name and label do not lie! This is a blueberry beer in every way. As with the scenting process, tasting reveals just a touch of maltiness. The rest is blueberry.

Still, Blue Point is easy on the palate. The blueberry flavor is not the sticky syrupy stuff that so often passes as a fruit beer. Rather, this is a beer first, but a fruit beer indeed.

I would suggest this has a moderate mouth feel — medium bodied and not too powerfully carbonated.

As most regular readers know, I’m not a huge fan of the fruit beer genre.

Still, I liked this and could well see myself having a few bottles on hand to offer friends and fellow explorers.

This style beer is a good way to wean industrial beer drinkers off their suds and bring them over to the more craft-style brews.

Razor Wit

Highland Brewing Company

Asheville, N.C.

Razor Wit was brought me by a friend and I’m not sure how available it actually is in the west Michigan market.

Still, I got some ...so I’m happy!

This excellent Belgian-style white ale pours a rich, somewhat hazy gold color with a good bit of head that stays around a short while leaving hints after it dissipates.

This is a mildly yeasty scented brew with hearty highlights of lemony citrus. There is a certain spiciness, a bit like ginger in the background. The hoppiness is muted, but the florals do kick in deep in the scenting.

The gingery spices are better felt in the tasting than revealed in the scenting. The ginger is pronounced, but I don’t think it is overpowering. There is a good degree of subtle hoppiness, and lemon zest tones stand out as well.

The flavors blend well and are rich and refreshing. This is a good, dry ale with just enough fizziness to tickle the palate.

A later read of the bottle reveals the brewer added a touch of coriander to this brew. Honestly, I didn’t feel it, and I’m a fan of coriander — in all sort of cooking and brewing.

Still, this really is a fine example of a white ale and a good tool in demonstrating how to do a good witbier that will be attractive to the widest audience.

Some witbiers may be much more complex, but this is an attractive sip simply because it is not too ‘busy’ and gives a drinker time to feel out and really sense the limited number of flavors while still enjoying a broader range of tastes.

Very, very good stuff.