I can't decide whether it's apropos or just silly that I am simultaneously working on one series about college and another about beer.
At any rate, I finally finished all the witbier that I bought the last time I was in a nice big beer store, and I'm ready to comment on it.
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Belgian wheat beer, a.k.a. witbier, a.k.a. bière blanche, is similar to German hefeweizen except it is typically less hoppy and a little lighter, and it is brewed with citrus peel and spices such as coriander. I have had some mass-produced American versions (Blue Moon, which is really a Coors beer, is the most famous), and found them drinkable; Mark generally turned up his nose at the idea of spiced beer.
Garrett Oliver recommends drinking witbier with salads of all sorts, especially those with citrusy vinaigrettes. This seemed so odd that I was eager to get started, especially back in the heat of August.
I picked up a six-pack of Hoegaarden Original White Ale first. Hoegaarden is pretty easy to find in the U. S., it seems. We had the first bottle with a homemade Caesar salad, which worked great, actually. The beer had a lemony kick to it.
For some reason, as I put my nose into the glass and inhaled, I was transported back to the scent of beer from my childhood. I haven't the foggiest idea which of the adults around me, if any, would have been drinking wheat beer or spiced beer when I was a little girl; maybe it was just that its pale crisp scent reminded me of whatever pale yellow beers were around in Southwestern Ohio at the time. I have no explanation for that one. I may have to ask my dad.
I liked the Hoegaarden a lot. Here is where I have to admit -- in case you can't tell already -- I actually kind of like pale yellow beer. No, I'm not a fan of Miller or Bud, but I have been known to suck back a Corona with my enchiladas from time to time. This beer was light and crisp, so you could drink it cold and have it be refreshing; but the spices were present, along with an obvious citrusy tang. It really did go with the salad, garlic and parmesan and all.
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The second beer I tried was Ommegang Witte, an American witbier from New York State. The first time I had it was all by itself, and I noted: "Very boring and flat."
But the second time I had it, I was eating crackers and herb cheese spread and buttered asparagus tips (it was lunch), and I noted "Pretty good!"
So I have decided that this is a good rule for witbier: Do not drink a witbier without food unless you know it.
Or, I guess, unless you are thirsty and hot. It'd probably be good then.
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The third witbier I tried was a large-format bottle of Dogfish Head Namaste. The bagger at the large foodie supermarket in Ohio where I bought it got all excited about my cart full of beer (witbiers and stouts) and told me I had excellent taste (duh, everything I was buying was on recommendation), and got even MORE excited when one of the beers was the Dogfish Head. He really talked it up. Now that I think about it, maybe he was trying to hit on me. But that's neither here nor there, because I decided that the Dogfish Head was another BORING beer. That is all that I wrote in my notebook: BORING, double underlined, like the Ommegang was before I had it with some food. Only I was having the Dogfish Head with food. And it was so boring I didn't bother to write down what food it was.
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And the fourth one I tried just the other day: Epic Brewing Co. Wit Beer out of Salt Lake City. I had only a single large-format bottle to try, but after we finished it I wished I had more. This beer pleased both me and Mark, because while it was nicely spiced, it had a more pungent hoppiness than the other Belgians we had been drinking. That hop bitterness, plus the lemony crispness, was perfect for the evening's dinner. We were having a light supper of French bread and salad -- a "BLT salad" with, well, lots of bacon and lettuce and tomato, plus red onion and cucumber, tossed in a creamy avocado-lime-basil dressing.
(This recipe is close, except WTF? Only four slices of bacon? I used half a pound.)
Bitter, hop-dominant beers are supposed to be good with rich, fatty food, while the witbier is supposed to be great with all things citrus-vinaigrette, and so this hoppier-than-usual witbier was really quite perfect with a fatty avocado-lime dressing and all that crunchy bacon. I would happily buy it again, and pour it at a party, and the thing I would serve it with would be a giant bowl of guacamole and some good salty tortilla chips. I bet it would be good with tabbouli, too. If there was bacon in it. And I bet it would be good with something quiche-like, too.
All in all, though, the Hoegaarden will probably be my go-to witbier, because it's easy to find and not terribly expensive (the Epic Wit Beer is a limited edition beer that is produced in rotation). The style really does work with citrusy salads, and since I love citrusy salads, I think we'll be having Belgian wheat beer again.