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  • Writer's pictureThe Belgian

Belgian Wit Beer: St Bernardus

Belgian witbiers, or "white beers," are a captivating and historic style of beer that has enchanted beer lovers around the world with their distinct flavours and hazy, pale appearance. This style of beer has its origins deeply rooted in the medieval beer-brewing traditions of Belgium, particularly in the Flemish region. Traditionally brewed with a blend of wheat and barley, the distinctive "white" cloudiness of the beer comes from the suspended yeast and wheat proteins, which are left unfiltered. However, what truly sets Belgian witbiers apart are the unique additions of spices such as coriander and orange peel, which give the beer its refreshing and complex flavour profile. This is, of course, why one sometimes sees drinkers enjoying a slice of orange in a Belgian Wit.

The history of Belgian witbiers is a tale of decline and revival. By the late 1950s, this once-popular style was on the very brink of extinction, having been outpaced by the growing popularity of lagers and pilsners over recent decades. It was not until the 1960s that Pierre Celis, a milkman-turned-brewer from the small village of Hoegaarden, decided to revive this ancient style, leading to a resurgence of interest in witbiers both in Belgium and internationally. This revival has allowed numerous breweries to explore and expand upon the traditional witbier recipe, bringing us a variety of interpretations of the style.

Among these interpretations, St. Bernardus Wit holds a special place in the hearts of witbier enthusiasts. Brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus in Watou, Belgium, this witbier is a relatively recent addition to the brewery's esteemed lineup, but it has quickly gained renown for its quality and adherence to traditional brewing methods. The history of Brouwerij St. Bernardus itself is fascinating; intertwined with the rich tapestry of Belgian brewing and monastic traditions. Originally, the brewery was connected with the Trappist monastery of St. Sixtus in Westvleteren. In the early 20th century, the monks of St. Sixtus decided to license the production of their beers to a nearby cheese factory, which would later become Brouwerij St. Bernardus. Although the brewery no longer produces beer under the Trappist designation, it has maintained a reputation for excellence in brewing.

St. Bernardus Wit was developed in collaboration with Pierre Celis, the very person credited with the revival of the witbier style. This collaboration bridged the gap between the ancient traditions of Belgian brewing and the contemporary renaissance of craft beer. St. Bernardus Wit is a testament to this, embodying the essence of what makes witbiers so beloved. Brewed with the finest ingredients, including water drawn from the brewery's own wells, the beer is a harmonious blend of spicy, fruity, and refreshing flavours, with witbier's characteristic cloudiness and soft, creamy head.

The renown of St. Bernardus Wit extends beyond its taste. It is often celebrated for its versatility, pairing wonderfully with a wide range of foods, from seafood to cheeses and even spicy dishes. This fact has made it a favourite not only among beer aficionados but also in gastronomic circles, where it is appreciated for its ability to complement and enhance flavours.

As the worldwide craft beer movement continues to grow, the story of St. Bernardus Wit serves as a reminder of the importance of history and tradition in the world of brewing. It is a beer that connects the past with the present, offering a taste of Belgium's rich brewing heritage in every sip. Whether enjoyed in a bustling Belgian Beer Café or in the comfort of one's home, St. Bernardus Wit is more than just a beer; it is a piece of brewing history.

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