The (Overlooked) Beers of Summer: Mothership Wit and St. Bernardus Witbier
Despite growing up in Wisconsin, one of the nation's undisputed brewing epicenters, I didn't learn to love beer until a visit to Boston near the end of my undergraduate years. Through a series of trivial circumstances, I wound up at an MIT house party designed as a tour of some of New England's best craft brews.
My palate softened up by the previous week's worth of drinking Point that I'd consumed for lack of any better pizza-aiding beverage, I was perfectly poised to jump from "beer tolerator" to "beer lover." The beer in question was Allagash White, a Maine interpretation of a Belgian wheat ale. Cloudy and spicy, the stuff blew my mind grapes. It was as though a switch had been flipped. "I like beer now," I remember telling someone. It just happened.
It's a major point in favor of Mothership Wit, the organic wheat beer manufactured by Colorado's New Belgium Brewing, that it takes me right back to that house party. The corriander and orange peel flavors practically bust out of the bottle.
Jason Alvey, proprietor of The Four Firkins, put Belgian wheat beers into the context of neighboring Germany's famous beer purity law of 1516. For better or worse, German brewers were essentially making beer with one hand tied behind their backs.
"Meanwhile, next door, the Belgians were going crazy!" says Alvey. "They were throwing in orange, coriander, candy sugar, whatever they could get their bloody hands on it was almost as though they were mocking the Germans, going: 'Oh yeah, you can't do that? Well look what we can do!'"
The result was a Belgian twist on the Hefeweizen with spicy and orange notes that just ring out. The power of a well-made Wit is such that it should be served as is, or not at all.
"Blue Moon is a Wit," says Alvey. "If you go to a bar and your Blue Moon comes out with a slice of orange on it throw it out, and tell the waitress not to do that. It completely overpowers all the fruity esters and citrus notes that were in the beer to begin with. I'm sure most of the brewers, if they saw that happen, they'd have a heart attack. They don't brew their beer so that you can chuck a slice of orange in it."
Mothership Wit is pretty clean-scrubbed and bright-eyed; Belgian counterpart St. Bernardus Witbier is comparatively brooding and complex. While many of the basics are the same (coriander, orange, wheat-clouded but light-colored), the St. Bernardus feels like a mouthful of flavor supporting notes ricochet off of your palate and make for a more intense, yeasty, sipping (rather than inhaling) experience.
What's got into that cat? A spunky defiance of the Reinheitsgebot, that's what.