Aug 18 2012
For the answer to this question, we would have to look back and beer recipes through the ages – if it weren’t for milkman Pierre Celis. The last white beer brewery in Belgium shut down during the 1950s, and that would have been the end of the brewing tradition that had gone on for hundreds of years. Pierre, though, used to work in a white beer brewery, and took over his father’s stables to create his own version in there. Soon his beer was so popular he moved to bigger premises – an abandoned soft drink factory – where he was brewing 300,000 barrels a year by 1985.
Pierre’s Hoegaarden brewery was destroyed in a fire, and to cover his losses he had to sell the rights to his beers to Interbrew, a global conglomerate that currently produces beers like Stella Artois, Labatt, Beck’s and even Boddingtons. At the age of 67, Pierre set up a microbrewery just outside Austin, Texas, in Hill County. It was the ideal location, he said, because he was never particularly good at English, and since people in Texas spoke so much more slowly they were that much easier to understand.
Unfortunately, America might be the land of the free, but it’s also the land of the takeover and the land of the lawsuit. All kinds of complications meant that Pierre had to stop producing his beers, even though one of them, Celis White, was awarded a perfect four-star rating by beer writer Michael Jackson. Pierre, sadly, is now no longer with us… but after having jumped through several legal hoops, his daughter is about to begin production once more. And that includes Pierre’s notable white beer.
Belgian white beers (also known as “witbier”, “witte” or “biere blanche”) have a sweetness and a sourness about them, and it may surprise you to know that the sourness is created by lactic acid – the same substance that builds up inside us while we exercise.
But why, after all that, is white beer called “white”? It’s down to the haze of suspended yeast and wheat proteins that occurs when you chill it. Originally, beer was brewed without hops in Belgium, and white beers are a throwback to those days. Instead of hops, beers were brewed with a blend of spices and herbs called gruit. Today, gruit no longer contains quite the collection of narcotic and semi-narcotic herbs favoured by those brewers in the Middle Ages but now it’s made up of hops, orange, bitter orange and coriander.
So Belgian white beer lovers all over the world should raise a glass heavenwards and thank Pierre, who saved it for us to enjoy today. Otherwise, we’d be drinking some other kind of Belgian beer instead, like Saison … or Dubbel … Tripel … Quadrupel … Strong Blonde … Strong Darks … Sour Ales … Flanders Red … Flanders Brown … Lambic … Gueuze … Belgian Stout … Belgian Scotch Ale … but then again, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy those as well!
Good food does not always have to be complicated. Belgique’s Belgian Cafes in London and online shop exemplify that belief, serving gourmet Belgian cuisine in a warm and welcoming environment. Belgique online delivers this experience, plus witbier and much more for you to enjoy in your own home.