Belgian Witbier

Belgian Witbier: A Comprehensive Guide to the Iconic Brew

Belgian witbier is a refreshing, pale and cloudy beer style that originates from Belgium, known for its distinct flavors derived from a unique blend of ingredients. It is commonly brewed with unmalted wheat, sometimes oats, and malted barley, and spiced with coriander and orange peel. The use of wheat and oats contributes to the beer’s signature pale and hazy appearance, giving it the name “wit,” which translates to “white” in Belgian, referring to the “white clouds” in the beer.

Belgian Witbier

This beer style boasts a rich history, dating back hundreds of years but faced a period of obscurity until being revived in the 1960s by Belgian brewer Pierre Celis. Since then, Belgian witbier has seen a resurgence in popularity and has inspired a range of interpretations by breweries across the globe. The brewing process for Belgian witbier often involves a programmed infusion process and the addition of various spices or herbs, which enhance its complex and intriguing flavor profile.

Key Takeaways

  • Belgian witbier is a pale, hazy beer style brewed with unmalted wheat, oats, and malted barley, and spiced with coriander and orange peel.
  • The history of witbier dates back hundreds of years and experienced a revival in the 1960s, thanks to Belgian brewer Pierre Celis.
  • The brewing process for Belgian witbier includes programmed infusion and the addition of various spices or herbs, providing a unique and complex flavor profile.

History of Belgian Witbier

Belgian Witbier is a style of wheat ale that originated in Belgium, characterized by its pale and cloudy appearance. This beer typically incorporates wheat, oats, and spices, which contribute to its unique flavor and appearance. Notable ingredients include the not malted wheat, coriander, and orange peel, which give the beer its crisp, clean, and tangy profile.

The roots of Belgian Witbier can be traced back to medieval times, when brewing was primarily done in monasteries and family farms for sustenance. The first mention of monastery brewing related to witbier appears in the 14th century in the region of Louvain, east of Brussels. Monks from different regional monasteries brewed their versions of witbier, leading to a diverse range of flavors and techniques. These monks were highly regarded for their brewing skills, and their witbiers were highly sought after across Europe.

The popularity of Belgian Witbier began to decline in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s, the last commercial witbier brewery closed its doors in the town of Hoegaarden. This temporary disappearance was short-lived, however, thanks to a milkman named Pierre Celis. Having previously worked at a witbier brewery in Hoegaarden, Celis embarked on a mission to revive the style. In the 1960s, Celis launched Hoegaarden, breathing new life into Belgian Witbier and sparking a resurgence in its popularity.

Today, Belgian Witbier enjoys success worldwide, with breweries in Belgium and beyond producing their versions of this iconic style. Despite the obstacles faced throughout its history, the unique characteristics and refreshing taste of witbier have allowed it to stand the test of time and secure its place as a beloved beer style.

Ingredients and Brewing Process

Wheat and Malt

Belgian Witbier, or Belgian wheat beer, is known for its distinctive hazy appearance and tangy citrus flavors. The grain bill typically consists of a combination of Pilsner malt and unmalted wheat, usually in equal parts. For added complexity, some brewers may also include oats, honey malt, or barley. Flaked wheat can also be used, as it contributes to the beer’s creamy mouthfeel and characteristic haze. The Pilsner malt provides a light, malty-sweet backbone to balance the tartness and spiciness of the other ingredients.

Yeast and Fermentation

The choice of yeast plays a crucial role in the formation of Witbier’s complex flavor profile. Belgian-style yeast strains, such as T58, S33, K97, WB-06, and US-05, are commonly used due to their ability to impart fruity, spicy, and herbal notes to the beer. Maintaining an optimal fermentation temperature is essential for preserving the delicate flavors of the Witbier. Generally, brewers start with a lower temperature (around 63°C) for a smoother, more neutral profile and gradually increase it (up to 72°C) as fermentation proceeds.

Hops and Bitterness

Belgian Witbiers are typically not overly hoppy, with a target bitterness ranging from 10 to 20 IBU (International Bittering Units). Subtle hop character is achieved using noble hop varieties such as Saaz, Select, and Styrian, which contribute mild bitterness and delicate herbal or floral flavors. Hops are often added at different points during the boiling process: first addition at 10 minutes, second addition at 50 minutes, and third addition at 90 minutes.

Spices and Flavorings

Coriander, citrus peels (typically orange), and a variety of other spices are essential ingredients for Witbier’s unique blend of flavors. Dried coriander seed imparts a subtle peppery and citrusy zest, while orange peel (fresh or dried) lends a bright, zesty character to the beer. In addition to these core flavors, other spices and herbs—such as chamomile, cumin, grains of paradise, or cinnamon—may be added to enhance the beer’s complexity.

For a 5-gallon batch, 0.5 to 1 ounce of orange peel and coriander is recommended, with both ingredients added 5 minutes before the end of the boil. Fresh orange zest can be used in place of dried peel, at a quantity of 0.25 to 0.5 ounces.

Tasting Profile


Belgian Witbier, which translates to “white beer,” is known for its cloudy and pale straw to light gold color. The cloudiness comes from its starch haze and/or yeast, and it gives the beer a milky, whitish-yellow appearance. This unfiltered beer is often topped with a dense, white, moussy head, which should have good retention.


The aroma of Witbier is a delightful combination of fruity and spicy qualities. The use of specific yeast strains along with added spices such as coriander and orange peel give this beer its unique and refreshing scent. You may also notice a hint of sweetness coming from the wheat and malted barley used in brewing.


Belgian Witbier has a complex flavor profile that balances its sweetness, tartness, and spiciness. The malted barley, unmalted wheat, and sometimes oats, contribute to the sweet and creamy base of the beer. The added spices, coriander, and orange peel give Witbier its distinctive spicy and citrus notes. The presence of specific yeast strains can also add esters and phenols, resulting in fruity or spicy flavors. The finish is often crisp and dry, making this beer an excellent thirst quencher.

Flavor ProfileDescription
SweetnessComes from malted barley, unmalted wheat, and oats
TartnessBalances the sweetness, providing depth and complexity
SpicinessDerived from the addition of coriander and orange peel


The mouthfeel of Belgian Witbier is characterized by its refreshing and creamy qualities. Its moderate alcohol content, usually ranging between 4.5% and 5.5% ABV, allows for a smooth drinking experience. The slight carbonation adds crispness, and the overall texture is light with unobtrusive body, making it ideal for enjoyment in a tulip-shaped glass.

Food Pairings

Belgian witbiers are known for their refreshing, light, and citrusy flavors, making them an excellent choice to pair with a variety of foods. As a confident, knowledgeable, and neutral guide, let’s explore some food pairings that perfectly complement the taste profiles of these elegant brews.

Firstly, Belgian witbiers pair exceptionally well with salads, especially those incorporating light citrus dressings and cheeses like feta or goat cheese. The citrus notes in the beer complement the dressings, while the acidity helps to cut through the creaminess of the cheese, creating a balanced and satisfying pairing.

When it comes to protein options, ham and light seafood dishes are ideal partners for witbiers. The beer’s subtle spice and citrus flavors work harmoniously with the salty and smoky taste of ham. Similarly, delicate seafood dishes, such as lobster, prawns, and sushi, shine when paired with a witbier, as the beer enhances the natural sweetness of the seafood without overpowering it.

In addition to the above combinations, here are a few other pairing suggestions for Belgian witbiers:

  • Appetizers: Ceviche, smoked salmon, and shrimp cocktails make for great starters when enjoyed alongside a witbier.
  • Cheese: Creamy cheeses like mascarpone and brie are perfectly cut by the beer’s acidity, creating a delightful flavor contrast.
  • Desserts: Citrus-based desserts, such as lemon bars or orange-cranberry scones, are an excellent choice to conclude a meal paired with a witbier, as they bring out the beer’s fruity notes.

Remember, pairing food and beer is always a matter of personal taste. The suggestions provided above aim to help you confidently explore the culinary world of Belgian witbiers in a neutral and clear manner. Happy pairing!

Notable Belgian Witbier Examples

Belgian Witbier is a popular beer style known for its refreshing, slightly hazy appearance and unique blend of spices and citrus flavors. When it comes to enjoying a quality Belgian Witbier, there are a few notable examples that stand out for their excellent taste and adherence to traditional brewing methods.

50 West Brewing Doom Pedal is a highly rated Belgian-style white ale that pours a hazy blonde. It masterfully blends coriander, orange peel, and grains of paradise to create a black peppery spiciness that complements the crisp, sweet citrusy notes in the beer. This well-balanced combination of flavors adds complexity and depth to the drinking experience.

Funkwerks White is another excellent Belgian Witbier that features a smooth mouthfeel thanks to the use of raw oats in the brewing process. With notes of orange zest, hints of coriander, and subtle nuances of chamomile, this beer showcases the delightful interplay of spices and citrus characteristics that make the style so appealing.

Belgian Witbier is known for its use of distinctive spices that contribute to the style’s unique flavor profile. Two ingredients commonly found in Witbier recipes are Styrian Goldings hops and grains of paradise. The Styrian Goldings hops offer a subtle earthy and floral aroma, while grains of paradise add a spicy, peppery element that complements the coriander and orange peel flavors.

Optimal Wit by Port City Brewing is a prime example of a contemporary take on the Belgian Witbier style that uses Styrian Goldings hops to add complexity to its flavor profile. This award-winning beer is brewed with Virginia-grown wheat and features notes of citrus, coriander, and a hint of spicy grains of paradise, making it a refreshing and engaging drinking experience.

These Belgian Witbier examples showcase the diverse flavors and aromas that can be achieved within the style, from traditional recipes to modern interpretations. The balance of distinctive spices, citrusy notes, and the use of high-quality ingredients like Styrian Goldings hops and grains of paradise demonstrate how this beer style remains a popular choice among beer enthusiasts and can continue to evolve and delight palates worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions

What distinguishes witbier from other wheat beers?

Belgian witbier is a wheat beer that differs from other wheat beers such as German Weissbier in its ingredients and flavor profiles. Witbier incorporates at least 50% of unmalted wheat, whereas German Weissbier uses malted wheat. The flavor profile of witbier retains some light grainy notes and has a hazy appearance with fast-rising bubbles.

What are the typical ingredients in a Belgian witbier?

The key ingredients in Belgian witbier include unmalted wheat, barley malt, and a mix of spices such as coriander and bitter orange peel. The use of noble-type hops adds a low hop bitterness to the beer. Some witbiers may also include oats for added body and texture.

What are some popular Belgian witbier brands?

Some popular Belgian witbier brands include Hoegaarden, St. Bernardus Wit, Blanche de Bruxelles, and Celis White. These brands offer a variety of flavors and aromas, ranging from light and refreshing to more complex and spicy.

How does the brewing process differ for Belgian witbier?

The brewing process for Belgian witbier involves using a high percentage of unmalted wheat and incorporating spices like coriander and bitter orange peel. The mixture is then fermented, often with a Belgian yeast strain, which contributes to the beer’s distinct fruity and spicy characteristics. The addition of noble-type hops during the brewing process adds a subtle bitterness to balance the flavor.

What food pairings work well with Belgian witbiers?

Belgian witbiers pair well with a variety of foods due to their refreshing and mildly tangy flavor profile. Some good options include light and delicate dishes like salads, seafood, and chicken dishes. Their bright and citrusy flavors also complement spicy and ethnic cuisines like Mexican, Indian, or Thai food.

How should Belgian witbier be served for optimal taste?

To fully enjoy Belgian witbier, it is best served in a glass that allows for the release of its fruity and spicy aromas. A broad-bottomed tulip glass or tall wheat beer glass is ideal. The beer should be served cold, typically between 40°F and 45°F, to enhance its refreshing qualities and thirst-quenching abilities.

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