How to make a Belgian Wit beer

by | Featured, Homebrewing




History of the Belgian Wit

Monasteries were making this beer as early as the 14th century.  Almost all of the best examples came from Hoegaarden.  By the 1900s as many as two dozen breweries in the village of Hoegaarden produced this classic beer, but World Wars and competition from larger lager breweries forced every wit beer brewery out of business by 1957.  The beer had essentially gone extinct.

My wit compared to Hoegaarden

Beer Resurrection

Almost ten years later, a milkman named Pierre Celis borrowed money from his family to open a brewery named De Kluis and revive the beer style.  His beer was Hoegaarden, named after the city.  The wit beer was a huge commercial success.  The De Kluis brewery started making about 350 hectoliters at first, but increased to over 75 thousand hectoliters by 1985.

In 1985, a fire wiped out most of Pierre’s brewery and threatened the wit beer again with extinction.  Other breweries were copying the recipe, but Hoegaarden was the wit beer everyone knew.  To save the brewery and rebuild, Pierre Celis was forced to accept loans from a few brewery giants.  By 1987, the larger breweries controlled his brewery and forced him to alter the recipe to appeal to a wider international palette.  Disappointed with this outcome, Celis divested his interests and moved to the United States.

Pierre Celis settled in Austin, Texas and recreated his beer based on the recipe he wanted.  He opened a new brewery in 1992 and released Celis White to the world using his original Hoegaarden recipe.

Guess who makes Blue Moon!

Another popular clone of this recipe is Blue Moon.  This beer was originally created for sale at the Coors Field baseball stadium in Denver, Colorado.  The recipe proved so popular, Coors released the beer commercially.  There are now several variations on their original recipe including Full Moon and Harvest Moon.  Blue Moon is so popular that many beer aficionados refuse to believe Coors makes the beer.

Blue Moon Beer

Blue Moon originated at the Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field

The Beer

The wit beer (meaning “white beer”) is a wheat based ale.  The wheat malt gives the beer a slightly cloudy color, similar to a German Hefeweizen.  This is usually 50% wheat and 50% malted barley.  Saaz are usually the hops of choice, at least for the aroma.

Of course it would not be a Belgian beer unless spices were added to the beer, in this case coriander and orange peel.  For the orange peel, use a zester to get the orange skin.  You want the orange part, not the bitter white part of the orange rind.  You can also buy bitter orange peel at your local homebrew store.

The coriander should be cracked into pieces before adding to the beer.  I use a rolling pin to crack the seeds. Just make sure the seeds are cracked, not ground into dust.

The yeast used most often is either White Labs WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale yeast or Wyeast 3944 Belgian Witbier yeast.

Extract Version

The most popular extract recipe is as simple as you can get.  The simple extract recipe is just

7.5 lbs liquid wheat malt extract (LME Wheat)
2.0 oz Saaz hops (1oz for bittering and 1 oz for aroma)
1.0 oz coriander added at 10 minutes
0.5 oz bitter orange peel at 10 minutes
White Labs WLP400 or Wyeast 3944

Boil the wort with one ounce of hops.  After 50 minutes, add another ounce of Saaz hops, coriander, and the orange peel.  Boil for another 10 minutes, then kill the flame.

This will make an “ok” witbier, but it will be missing the smoothness you get from the wheat and oats.  If you can partial mash, reduce the malt extract by a pound and instead mini-mash one pound of flaked oats with one pound of pilsner malt.

All-Grain Belgian Wit

Here is the all-grain recipe I used all last summer.

3 lbs Belgian wheat malt
2 lbs Flaked wheat
8 oz Belgian aromatic malt
4 oz Flaked oats4 lbs Belgian 2-row Pilsner malt
1.0 oz Kent Goldings (bittering for 60 minutes)
0.5 oz Kent Goldings (flavoring for 10 minutes)
0.5 oz Saaz (aroma for 1 minute)
3/4 tsp cracked coriander for 50 minutes
½ tsp cracked coriander for the last 10 minutes
¼ oz bitter orange peel for 50 minutes
½ oz bitter orange peel for the last 10 minutes
White Labs WLP400 or Wyeast 3944

Make sure you mash the above grains with rice hulls.  This will help prevent a stuck mash, since the flaked oats and wheat can turn to oatmeal cement if you are not careful.  Mash the grain at 150 F (65 C) for 90 minutes.

This recipe will give you a better beer because the wheat and oats will give you a creamier mouth-feel.  Ferment the beer at 65F.

When you carbonate the beer, carbonate to 2-2.5 volumes.  If you are bottle conditioning, use 1 ¼ cups of extra light malt extract that was boiled for at least 10 minutes.

Conclusion

This beer is best served chilled with a lemon or orange slice.  Be sure to make several batches if you plan to share with friends.  Kegs of Belgian wit empty very quickly!  Spring is here, and summer will be upon us soon.  Make sure your beer supplies are ready and start brewing now!


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DJ Spiess

DJ Spiess

Beer buddy

I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!