The Amazing Shape-Shifting Beer
All About Beer Magazine - Volume 24, Issue 5November 1, 2003
I have a conflicted view of beer styles. As historical artifacts, beer styles are endlessly fascinating to study. They generally represent confluences—and compromises—of technology, agriculture, cuisine and geology that make the most of what a region has to offer. This means that existing styles are usually quite wonderful to drink, and I’m all for that. But as a brewer who approaches the craft from an artistic point of view, I’m not always interested in precisely reproducing a particular style, challenging as that may be. I do it, of course, but it’s more for the experience of getting inside and finding out what makes a style tick. More importantly, I like to use the basic style as a springboard, a starting point for producing beers that are more distinctive personal expressions. Belgian witbier is such a style. Deceptively simple, it is actually quite a challenge to brew in an authentic manner, as I have written in these pages before. In its classic form, wit is a modest-strength (1040 to 1045), pale, cloudy beer, brewed from malted barley (50 percent), unmalted wheat (45 percent) and oats (5 percent), which gives it a smooth, creamy mouthfeel. It is lightly hopped, spiced with orange peel and coriander, and often possesses a certain lactic acidity. With such well-defined parameters, one would expect that to deviate from tradition would be to invite the whole glorious creation to fall apart into muddled chaos, but the spirit of witbier endures. You can make it stronger, darker or hoppier, and the essence of it still shines through.