The town of Hoegaarden, east of Brussels, is situated in the centre of wheat growing country and at one time had more than 30 breweries producing the local wheat beer. The last brewery closed in the 1950s as traditional beers were being replaced by lagers, but around ten years later Pierre Celis revived the style. The brewery was a huge success and was acquired by Interbrew in the 1980s.
Based in Brussels, Interbrew is one of the oldest, and largest, beer companies in the world with breweries in 20 countries and its products being sold in more than 120 countries. it is responsible for such diverse beers as: Becks, Boddingtons, Leffe, Rolling Rock and Stella Artois
Witbier is a Belgian Wheat beer – meaning that it’s a beer brewed using at least 25% of wheat malts. Belgian wheat beers are different from German, or indeed British and American wheat beers, in that they’re fruitier, with a slight lemony touch. This is because of their use of coriander seeds, orange peels and other spices to flavour the beer.
It pours to a hazy, slightly cloudy, pale yellowish-orange colour with a luxurious head comprised of masses of tightly packed, tiny bubbles. This all leads to a mass of lacing on the glass that stays right to the very end. The aromas are of a gentle spiciness combined with a ripe tropical fruit (banana, pineapple etc.) Also present are medicinal-like phenols, a mild vine-fruit aroma, and of course orange.
It’s medium bodied with a lively carbonation and a viscous mouthfeel. Again, the suggestion of tropical fruit imposes itself in the flavour with pineapple being the most dominant. There’s a lot of yeast flavour giving a somewhat nutty impression, and a mass of complex spicy tones, especially coriander and cloves, backed up by the sharpness of the citric curacao peel. The hops are really only there for balance, giving just a very slight floral note. The finish is dry but still has lots of lingering fruity flavour while the aftertaste has a hint of vanilla and a light spiciness.
At 8.7% ABV, this a is a quality beer and one to savour and enjoy. It’s very similar to the more ordinary Hoegaarden but it tastes better, it’s a little bit darker and much stronger. I read somewhere that the Grand Cru is similar to how the original Hoegaarden used to be before becoming more commercialized – makes sense.
This is a very complex beer with lots of different aromas and flavours to savour and not really a beer to enjoy with a bar lunch – although you can if you want. No, this is for gently sipping on a balmy summer evening after a scorcher of a day. I’ve marked down three days in July for that very purpose.