Witbier is a wheat-based ale that originated in east-central Belgium. Its name literally means “white beer,” although its actual color is more of a hazy straw gold. But it would have looked quite pallid next to the dark red-brown barley beers that were standard issue 400 years ago.
Because Belgium was a part of the Netherlands at the time, and because the Netherlands held various tropical colonies at that same time, a rather medieval use of exotic spices as beer flavoring is still a hallmark of witbier—especially coriander and the bitter peel of Curaçao oranges.
Witbier arose as a true farmhouse ale: brewed on the farm, for the farm, using grains from the farm. It incorporated malted and/or raw wheat along with pale malted barley, and often raw or malted oats. Historical documents indicate that witbier didn’t usually have a pure-culture fermentation until sometime after the mid-20th century; prior to that, a mild to moderate sourness from lactic acid bacteria would have been a regular feature.
So we’ve already got a beer with multiple malted and raw grains, spices, plus sourness, and we haven’t even gotten to the spicy, phenolic buzz of traditional witbier yeast strains. The hallmark of any great Belgian ale is the ability to bring all these disparate elements into balance in the glass, which gibes with our ultimate goal for this recipe as an approachable friendly, drinkable, quenching summertime tumbler-filler.
This witbier recipe is just one of 64 witty and detailed homebrew recipes originally published in Michael Dawson’s debut book, Mashmaker: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Great Beer at Home. The e-book version is available here.
Note: These steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process—refer to the instructions for your brew system, and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.
Except where noted, the recipes in this book are formulated for 5-gallon (19-liter) all-grain batches, calculated at 75% mash efficiency.
4 lbs. Belgian Pilsner malt
4 lbs. Rahr White Wheat malt
8 oz. flaked oats
0.75 oz. Hallertau Hersbrucker, or equivalent with very low alpha acid
Wyeast 5335 Lactobacillus
Your favorite Witbier strain—Wyeast 3944, WLP400, or equivalent
1 tablespoon whole coriander, freshly ground before use
1 tablespoon bitter Curaçao orange peel
KEY POINTS FOR KEY PINTS
Prep a starter for the Lacto: This’ll help speed up the souring and eventual gratification.
Keep bitterness low and temp high: Most Lactobacillus is notoriously hop-sensitive and tends to conk out at levels greater than about 10 IBU. But one thing it loves is heat— keep- ing the initial fermentation at 80-90°F will promote its activity.
Multi-strain, multi-step fermentation: The Lacto starter culture will get first crack at the wort. Don’t be alarmed if there is little change to the SG of the wort—at this point the main activity of the bacteria will be to produce acid, not alcohol. The witbier Saccharomyces strain will be added approximately a week later, once the lactic acid bacteria has done its souring.
Make a starter culture for the Lacto 4–7 days prior to brew day—use 2 oz. of DME in 1 liter of water, and incubate at 90–100°F.
On brew day, mill the grains and heat strike water to approximately 163°F
MASH & SPARGE
- Mash rest: Add all grains to strike water, mix to 151–153°F, and rest for 60 minutes. Collect and heat sparge water.
- Mashout: Heat it to 170°F for 5 minutes. Sparge and collect wort in boil kettle.
BOIL (60 minutes)
- T-45: 0.75 oz. Hersbrucker (or equivalent.)
- T-1: 1 tablespoon each coriander and bitter orange peel.
- T-0: Cool the wort to approximately 95°F, transfer to a sanitized fermentor.
FERMENTATION AND BEYOND
- Lacto fermentation: 80−90°F for 5−7 days before adding witbier yeast.
- Sacch fermentation: 68−70°F for an additional 7−10 days, then package.
- Serving: Fresh and lively in a tumbler, shady tree, sunny day.