The Revival of Belgian White Beers

Belgian witbiers, or “white beers,” went extinct in the late 1950s. Learn about this brew’s curious history and how producers like Celis Brewing are working to ensure it’s here to stay.
Celis White, Funky Wit, Florida Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale, White Thai and White Rascal / Photo by Meg Baggott

For centuries, the region east of Brussels was renowned for witbiers, or “white beers,” cloudy and smooth from unmalted wheat. Spiced with orange peel and coriander, they were lightly tart, hugely aromatic and, by the late 1950s, extinct.

Enter Pierre Celis, a milkman who, in 1965, began to brew witbier in his barn, in the Belgian village of Hoegaarden. His revival was a smash.

A couple of decades later, a fire felled the brewery. Celis took loans from other breweries to rebuild. One pressured him to change his recipe, but he sold the business instead. He later took his family to Austin, Texas, where he opened a brewery in 1992, making witbier with yeast he smuggled in his socks. A decade later, unable to keep up with demand, the brand was sold and shuttered. Then Celis died in 2011.

“I wanted to continue my dad’s legacy,” says his daughter, Christine.

She bought back the name Celis Brewery and opened its latest incarnation in Austin last summer. The formula is unchanged,­ and the yeast delivers its trademark tartness and fine fizz.

Thanks to the Celis clan, witbier is deeply ingrained in American brewing. Traditional approaches are widely available, but breweries also use witbier as a template for innovation. Here are five great wits to gather.

Meet the Beer Perfect for Wine Drinkers

Witbiers to look for

Celis White

Celis Brewery, Austin, TX

This is based on Pierre Celis’s original recipe. There’s a pleasant tartness, while coriander and orange peel lend a spicy, citrusy verve.

Funky Wit

Perennial Artisan Ales, St. Louis, MO

At least one year in oak foeders provides an enlivening acidity and lush coconut notes for this beer.

Florida Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale

Cigar City Brewing, Tampa, FL

Named after the cattle-herding Cracker Cowboys, this hazy witbier has a neat bubblegum note that plays well with the Valencia orange peel.

White Thai

Westbrook Brewing Co., Mt. Pleasant, SC

The brewery uses ginger, lemongrass and lemony Sorachi Ace hops, which create the perfect companion to curry.

White Rascal

Avery Brewing Co., Boulder, CO

At this year’s prestigious World Beer Cup, this took silver. The unfiltered witbier is a zesty homage to the original, right down to its Hoegaarden yeast.

Published on July 4, 2018
Topics: Drinks



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