In this two-part blog, we’re diving into white beers, a topic we’re pretty passionate about.
At Allagash, we love white beers. It’s a storied style that we just happen to think is delicious too. And because we can’t get enough of it, we wanted to take a little time to talk about both the beer’s origins, and our take on the style.
The history of white beer stretches as far back as the Middle Ages. That name comes from the Belgian wit bier—literally “white beer”—and it was also known as bière blanche in nearby France. The style was traditionally produced in the Flemish region of Belgium, where brewers could easily source both cereal grains from farms and spices from neighboring Netherlands.
Coriander, one of the key ingredients in a wit bier.
White beer is defined as an unfiltered, top-fermented wheat beer. White beers traditionally contain few hops to keep the bitterness low. They also include coriander and Curaçao orange peel—though other spices are often substituted or added in today’s white beers. The beer’s light haze comes from both yeast and protein that remain in suspension after fermentation.
White beers are often confused with German Hefeweizens. The first difference between this German style and Belgium’s white beers lies in the ingredients. German wheat beers stick to a more restrained recipe of malted wheat, malted barley, and hops. Full stop. Belgian wheat beers are not so straightforward. They employ a variety of brewing ingredients like unmalted wheat, oats, and spices, in addition to wheat, barley, and hops.
Most importantly, in both hefeweizens and white beers, a large part of the fruit-like character doesn’t actually come from fruit. Yeast is the single ingredient that forms the biggest point of differentiation between wits and hefeweizens. The yeast used in German hefeweizens has strong banana and clove notes, whereas the yeast used in witbiers tends to have more spice and citrus notes.
In the second installment of this blog, we’ll dive into Allagash White specifically, with some history behind the beer and some tips for home brewing a stellar white beer.