Refreshing, delicate and a hit with beer drinkers of all palates, Belgian wheat beers (aka Witbier, Witte, Wit, White) have long been regarded as some of the most prestigious and delicious beers available, especially during the warmer months when their assertive carbonation, typical crisp citrus notes and delicate spice aromas are nothing short of spectacular. Traditionally, Belgian wheat beers are brewed with raw unmalted wheat and malted barley, and get their name from the cloudy color of the beer due to the non-filtering of suspended yeast and the frothy white head that they produce. Domestic brewers—Southampton Ales & Lagers, Dogfish Head and Samuel Adams among them—have been taking the classic style and adding their own individual twists to offer up some of the most unique and rewarding brews to date, leaving the desire for consumption rampant year-round regardless of what the thermometer reads. For more information on special and, in some cases, limited edition selections of these odes to Belgium, read on.
Allagash White: The White beer from this Portland, Maine brewery centered on producing Belgian-style brews is a classic. Immediately aromas of orange peel and spice seem to jump right out of the glass. With a thick frothy head and beautiful webbing, a second nosing presents the malty notes of cereal and cream of wheat. The mouth is mellow, velvety and balanced, with all of the parts in perfect proportion. The fragrant finish evolves from crisp notes of grapefruit oil to luscious earthy notes of coriander and tree bark. The clean, lingering finish leaves you ready for more, much much more, of this timeless brew. 750-ml bottle or 12 ounce 6 pack – 5.2% abv
Brooklyn Local 1: This most recent release from Brooklyn Brewery delivers on so many levels, but then again not much else is expected from one of America’s top breweries. Taking the classic European practice of 100% bottle re-fermentation (a practice rarely used today), the brew is bottled flat with the fermentation in bottle producing the beer’s carbonation; the carbon dioxide is unable to escape and therefore is absorbed into the beer. The description of this method is basically a variation of méthode Champenoise without the dégorgement (removal of yeast) after secondary fermentation; the folks at Brooklyn like to call it méthod Brooklynoise. Developed autolytic-like aromas and flavors full of cereal, honey, citrus and some earthy notes such as tobacco make this a selection worth experiencing, no matter how hard it will be to find it. 750-ml bottle – 9% abv
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company Xtra Gold American Tripel Ale: This adaptation of a traditional Belgian Tripel lies fairly close to the classic recipes (pale gold color, moderate alcohol and slight hop presence). Of course, what would be more American than the addition of a little more hops than what’s typically called for. With 33 IBUs, brewmaster Scott Vaccaro kicked it up a notch by dry-hopping the beer with American Amarillo hops. The result: a wonderfully complex and structured beer full of character. The resiny citrus aromas hit you full force upon pouring, with essences of grapefruit oil, tropical fruit and honeyed sweetness standing strong. With a medium mouthfeel, the hops balance nicely with the inherent fruit flavors from the yeast. A long evolving and appropriately biting finish tops off this experience. 750-ml bottle – 10% abv
Dogfish Head Festina Pêche: Festina Pêche is Dogfish Head’s Summer seasonal brew, available June 1st until it is sold out. An unbelieveably refreshing Berliner Weisse-style beer fermented with fresh peaches, this tart expression is rather difficult to come by with only a handful of producers left still making it. Beautiful aromas and flavors of fresh peaches as well as hints of resiny oil promise the ultimate experience of pure refreshment. The vibrant acidity and effervescence only further complement the palate, with the components all working hand-in-hand to create a wonderfully crisp and enlightening drinking experience. 12 ounce 4 pack – 4.5% abv
Samuel Adams White Ale: This is Samuel Adams’ spring seasonal beer, available late January to April. A classic take on the Belgian style, the folks at Sam Adams actually stay pretty close to the more traditional recipes. The crispness and lively citrus resin aromas achieved from the addition of Tettnang Tettnanger Noble Hops perfectly balance out the inherent malty, cereal notes on the finish. The secret to what gives this brew its unique and subtle yet unavoidable complexity is the proprietary 10 spice blend, with hints of orange and lemon peel, anise, hibiscus, tamarind and vanilla among others. The beer is coarse filtered, leaving a beautiful and characteristic hazy appearance from the suspension of malt proteins. Appropriate for all seasons, be sure to grab this up when available. 12 ounce 6 pack – 5.4% abv
Southampton Ales & Lagers Double White Ale: This “double strength” version of a classic Belgian White welcomes you in with open arms. It is called a White beer due to its light (virtually white) unfiltered appearance. The crisp nose offers more traditional notes of light orange peel and adamantly present coriander. The mouth is full and weighty, with the strong presence of malt and spice. The slightly higher abv lends a slight warming sensation to the finish along with a slight bitter-sweetness. A heavyweight of the style, the depth and backbone behind this brew leaves it lingering on your palate for ages after it’s gone—though drinking too many will definitely take you down for the count. The addition of a small wedge of lemon brings it all together. 750-ml bottle or 12 ounce 6 pack – 7.2% abv
Unibroue Ephémére: This White Ale brewed with apple must is a beautiful pale golden color with a slightly hazy appearance from remaining unfiltered. Vibrant notes of green apple burst up at you upon pouring. A second nosing offers some notes of pineapple, cereal with peaches, juicy orange and subtle sweet spice. The mouth is perfect with a full creamy, malty body. Ripe apple slices and Curaçao orange shine through on the palate, while the finish is more the essence of lightly baked apples with sweet spice and coriander. For feeling so rich and full in the mouth, the finish is surprisingly crisp and clean, with the sweet yet slightly tart flavors dancing on your tongue and pleading for more. Lively, refreshing and perfectly balanced in every way, this brew is sure to satisfy all of your sensations. 12 ounce 4 pack – 5.5% abv