Why is it called a Belgian white?

Answered by Michael Weatherspoon

Belgian white beers, also known as Witbier or Bière Blanche, get their name from their country of origin, Belgium, and the pale, hazy appearance of the . The term “white” refers to the cloudy appearance caused by the suspended and proteins in the beer, giving it a whitish or pale yellowish color.

The origins of Belgian white beers can be traced back to the town of Hoegaarden in the 16th century. At that time, Hoegaarden was a bustling center and a major producer of wheat beers. The beer was brewed with a significant proportion of wheat, which imparted a distinct flavor and contributed to its cloudy appearance.

The term “Belgian white” gained wider recognition as these beers became more popular not just in Hoegaarden, but also in other parts of Belgium, particularly in the city of Leuven. Leuven is renowned for its brewing tradition and is home to several prominent breweries. Over time, the term “Belgian white” became synonymous with this style of beer and is now recognized internationally.

The unique characteristics of Belgian white beers go beyond their appearance. They are typically made with a combination of malted barley and unmalted wheat, giving them a lighter body and a crisp, refreshing taste. The use of specific yeast strains, such as the Belgian Witbier yeast, contributes to the beer's distinct flavor profile, which often includes notes of citrus, coriander, and spices.

One of the defining features of Belgian white beers is their use of spices during the brewing process. Traditional recipes often call for the addition of coriander seeds and dried orange peel, which lend a delicate and aromatic quality to the beer. These spices, along with the yeast, contribute to the complexity and balance of flavors that are characteristic of Belgian white beers.

Belgian white beers are also known for their relatively low bitterness, making them highly approachable and easy to drink. The combination of the wheat, spices, and yeast creates a harmonious blend of flavors that is both refreshing and satisfying. These beers are often enjoyed during the warmer months or as a refreshing alternative to heavier, more robust beer styles.

In my personal experience as a sommelier and brewer, Belgian white beers have a wide appeal due to their versatility and refreshing nature. They pair well with a variety of foods, including seafood, salads, and lighter dishes. The subtle spiciness and citrus notes complement the flavors of these dishes without overpowering them. Additionally, the effervescent carbonation of Belgian white beers helps to cleanse the palate and enhance the overall dining experience.

The term “Belgian white” is a reflection of the beer's Belgian origins and its distinctive appearance. It has become synonymous with a style of beer that is light, refreshing, and full of flavor. Whether enjoyed in a traditional Belgian café or on a sunny terrace, Belgian white beers continue to captivate beer lovers around the world with their unique characteristics and rich history.