The Witbier is a Belgian style of beer that dates back 400 years. It’s a lighter style, generally around 5% ABV, with a lot of body due to the umalted wheat. Witbiers are often spiced with coriander and orange peel. The style nearly died out in the 1950’s, but was brought back to life when Pierre Celis, the brewmaster at Hoegaarden, started brewing it again. Since then, it’s had a huge resurgence with the craft beer movement. National brands like Blue Moon Belgian White have lead the way. There are also some other great examples of the style from smaller, local breweries like Ommegang Witte and Artisanal White in the Glasses Wit. While it’s great year-round, you tend to see more Witbiers in the summer since it’s a refreshing beer with citrus notes. It also happens to be one of my favorite styles to drink and brew and I’ve been trying to perfect my recipe for a while now, but haven’t quite dialed it in yet.
So, how do you brew one? Here is my recipe for a five-gallon batch with a target of 4.9% ABV, 2.9 SRM and 15 IBU. Target original gravity (OG)1.049 and final gravity (FG) 1.011. All of these ingredients are available in your local home brew store:
- -4.5 lbs Belgian Pilsner Malt 45% (You can sub any pilsner Malt but I like to try to be authentic to the original style)
- -4.5 lbs Flaked Wheat 45%
- -1 lb Flaked Oats 10%
- -1 lb Rice Hulls
- -1 oz Saaz Hops
- -0.75 oz crushed Coriander seeds (I use whole coriander seeds and crush them with a mortar and pestle. I might try using my coffee grinder next time because this is rather time consuming.)
- -0.75 oz Bitter orange peel
- -WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale yeast
You’re probably looking at this ingredient list and wondering what the rice hulls are for. Wheat and oats do not have husks like barley. The husk in barely acts as a natural filter bed, which allows you to drain the sweet wort out of the mash ton. With huskless grains, your mash can become the consistency of oatmeal and when you try to drain the wort, it can gum up the works causing the dreaded stuck sparge. The rice hulls add the husks without imparting any flavors or color to your wort. This will allow the wort to flow perfectly out of your mash tun, making your brew day much more enjoyable.
This brew day, I went with my usual single infusion mash at 152 degrees. I used an igloo sideline cooler for my mash tun, since it’s cheap and gets the job done. I added 15 quarts of 168 degree water to the mash tun and stirred in the grains and let it sit for 60 minutes. I did a batch sparge, which means I drained the mash tun completely and then added 23 quarts of 170 degree water while stirring the mash. Then I drained that to get about eight gallons of wort. I boiled it for 90 minutes, adding the Saaz hops 30 minutes after it started to boil. Next, I added the coriander with ten minutes left and the bitter orange peel at five minutes. After the boil, I cooled the wort down 67 degrees and pitched my yeast. This time I held the temp for the first two days and used my carboy heater to gradually raise the temp over the next five days to 75 degrees and let it sit for another week at this temp. Witbiers ferment quickly, and since they are supposed to be hazy, there is no need to let it sit longer to clear up over time. As always, I kegged it and forced carbonated it. Unfortunately, something went wrong on my brew day and I was several points lower on my target OG, but nailed the FG. Because of this, my ABV was only 4.2%, so I made a session Witbier. It’s very drinkable, but not what I was going after, so I’m guess I’m going to have to keep trying until I perfect it.
Bill Ramsey is a self-proclaimed beer geek and avid home brewer. He has spent countless hours scouring the Internet for information about beer and brewing and isn't afraid to share that knowledge with friends, family and the occasional stranger. As a survivor of hundreds of beer festivals, he can talk to you for hours about beer if you let him, just ask some of the women he has dated. If you ever run into him in the wild he will probably be enjoying some new style of beer while googling everything he can find out about it and trying to formulate a clone recipe for it in his head.