Belgian Wit Recipes – White Beer Styles

by Brad Smith on November 2, 2008 · 16 comments

Belgian Wit is a wonderful light, refreshing beer that narrowly avoided extinction to become a popular hit here in the United States. This week we’ll take a look at the history, brewing and recipes for Belgian Wit and White Beer.

History

Belgian Wit goes by many names, all variations of the term “White Beer”. In French it is called “Biere Blance”, while the Flemish name is Wit or Witbier which is pronounced “Wit” or “Wet) [Ref: BT] While the style was likely derived from the Belgian Monastary tradition, it reached widespread popularity in the 18th and 19th century in the towns east of Brussels. The two beers “Biere Blanche de Louvain” and “Blanche de Hougerde” were brewed in Louvain and Hoegaarden respectively. The Louvain version was more popular.

After the lager revolution in the 1800′s and into the 1900′s, Wit gradually declined in popularity and in fact disappeared when the last Belgian brewery went out of business in 1957. Nearly 10 years later Pierre Celis raised money from family members to open a brewery called De Kluis and began brewing a traditional Wit called appropriately “Hoegaarden”.

In 1985, the De Klius brewery burned to the ground, again threatening Witbier with extinction. Pierre Celis was able to raise money from commercial sources to rebuild the brewery, but by 1987 these larger brewers essentially took control from Pierre Celis and altered the recipe to appeal to a broader audience. Pierre Celis, disappointed, moved to Austin Texas where he opened a new brewery making “Celis White” based on the original Hoegaarden recipe.

Brewing The Wit Beer Style

Belgian Wit is a light, wheat based beer with light to medium body, slight sweetness and a zesty orange-fruity finish. It has a clean crisp profile, low hop bitterness and high carbonation with a large white head. Traditional Wit is slightly cloudy due to the use of unmalted wheat, and pale to light gold in color.

Original gravity is in the 1.044-1.052 range, bitterness in the 10-20 IBU range and color in the 2-5 SRM range. Carbonation is high.

Belgian Wit is made from a base of around 50% pale malt, and 50% unmalted wheat. Often 5-10% rolled or flaked oats are added to enhance body and flavor.

Unmalted wheat presents some challenges for the single infusion homebrewer. Pure unmalted wheat will not convert well with a single infusion mash. This can be rectified by using a multi-step infusion or multi-step decoction mash, but simpler solutions exist. If you substitute flaked or torrified wheat, you can perform a single infusion mash easily, while still preserving the distinctive flavor of unmalted wheat.

If you are brewing from extract, wheat extract might be an acceptable option, but all grain brewers should avoid using malted wheat as it will not result in the authentic wit flavor. Rolled oats are best if you are brewing all-grain as these two will work well in a single infusion mash. Where possible, high diastic pale colored malt should be used as the pale base.

Hops are typically chosen to minimize the hop profile. Low alpha hops such as BC Goldings, Hallertauer, Fuggles or Saaz with just enough hops to balance the sweetness of the malt. Late hop additions are inappropriate, as hop aroma is not a feature of the style. I personally prefer about 1 oz of BC Goldings boiled for 60 minutes in a 5 gallon batch. Dry hopping and large late hop additions are not really appropriate for this style.

Spices play an important role in Wit. Traditionally, Coriander and Bitter (Curaco) orange peel are used in small amounts at the end of the boil to add a bit of spice. In some cases, small amounts of sweet (traditional) orange peel are also added, though sweet orange peel should not be a dominant flavor.

The coriander should be cracked, but not crushed, whole seeds. I run my coriander seeds through the grain mill to crack them in half. Bitter Curaco orange peel is not the type you find in the supermarket, but is available from most major brewing supply shops. I recommend about 3/4 ounce of bitter orange peel and 3/4 ounce of coriander for a 5 gallon batch added 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

Belgian Wit Recipes

Here is a collection of Wit and White beer recipes from our recipe site:

And here is a link to my personal Wit Recipe:

We also have more BeerSmith recipes on our recipe page. I hope you enjoyed this week’s article on Belgian Wit. It is one of my personal favorites, and it appeals to the guest as well. Thanks again for supporting the BeerSmith Home Brewing Blog. Keep your comments and BrewPoll votes coming.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

BrewMoreBlack November 2, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Brad’s Belgian Wit recipe is AWESOME. Wife’s favorite.

bigdave3124 December 9, 2008 at 5:39 am

I’m thinking I might want to try a Wit. I really don’t like the bananna/clove tastes in Bavarian Weissbier, but I think this might be something I would enjoy. I tried a beer at a beer tasting that one friend said tasted like a Wit.

Now a question or two. You write “If you substitute flaked or terrified malt, you can perform a single infusion mash easily, while still preserving the distinctive flavor of unmalted wheat.” Now I think “terrified” should read “torrified”, but even so, I’m not really sure you mean “malt” because you later say “all grain brewers should avoid using malted wheat as it will not result in the authentic wit flavor.” But maybe not?

In any case, you do want full conversion of the starches, right? I was thinking of using some of the new 6-row malt as a base. Comments?

Brad Smith December 9, 2008 at 6:47 pm

Hi,
Yes – terrified should be torrified. Personally I use flaked wheat which is very easy to work with and provides the unmalted character needed.

I also generally use Belgian malt as a base for wit as it gives an authentic feel. The unmalted wheat provides plenty of body.

You might want to give my recipe a try above – it is easy to make and gives a great tasting beer.

bigdave3124 December 16, 2008 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the reply, Brad. I think this might be my next beer.

GG February 16, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I just kegged my first Belgian Wit tonight, using this recipe. I did a lot of research to try to get as close to Celis White as possible and all my research agrees very closely with this recipe. I have a print out from an old Homebrew Digest (1992-ish) where a couple of guys had talked to Pierre Celis about a homebrew clone. They spoke to him a couple of times and the recipe they came up with is very, very close to Brad’s.

There is one small change I made to jive more with my Homebrew Digest recipe: I added a pound of flaked oats. Celis seemed to hint that this was a component. One other thing I’d recommend from my personal experience (and from other Celis clone research) is to use some rice hulls (which I forgot to do). This will greatly help prevent a stuck sparge, which I got over and over again. Flaked oats + flaked wheat = glue. I’ve read that using 1/2 to a full pound of rice hulls will do the trick. Adds no flavor, just helps loosen up the mash during sparging.

Thanks for the details, Brad. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

GG
Chicago, USA

Brad Smith February 16, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Thanks!
I think you will really enjoy it!
Brad

All grain brewer April 16, 2010 at 10:34 am

GG: Try using a protein rest when using unmalted wheat. I’ve successfully mashed with unmalted wheat using a protein rest (~125-132F) for about 20 minutes without the use of rice hulls. No stuck mash, and the beers turn out great.

Matt Crecelius July 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I just brewed one on Memorial Day.
5lbs pale malt
5lbs flaked wheat
1lb rice hulls – this wasn’t enough for me and had a stuck sparge
1oz Goldings for 60
1oz Saaz for 15
2oz bitter orange peel for 15
2oz coriander for 15
Belgian Wit Wyeast

Turned out great!

Nick January 20, 2012 at 3:57 am

Hi
I’m keen to try out your recipe as a starting point for this style though what I actually wanted to do was make a Belgian buckwheat beer, in the style of the fabulous Sara.
Do you have an idea whether I should switch all of the wheat for buckwheat and should it be malted/toasted whatnot
Thanks

Brad Smith January 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I would start by using buckwheat in smaller quantities – it can have a strong effect on the beer. I would not recommend replacing all of the wheat with Buckwheat.

Charles February 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I made one like this but with a bit of crystal and oat malt (500g of each) and I probably was over 1 oz on the orange peel and corriander; best beer I’ve ever tasted, drinking a glass of it right now. I’m planning another batch this weekend but following the recipe for Brad’s Belgian Wit much more closely.

Matt Diaz June 6, 2012 at 1:14 am

The talk about rice hulls: is this needed for partial mashers who bag up all the grains used?

Also, I’ve seen some other Wit recipes with Belguim candi and others w/ honey additions. Any comments on why or where those ingredients fit in with the coriander and orange peel in the taste profile? I can only assume the honey is mostly additive sugar content, but what about the candi stuff??

From someone doing their first Belguim beer and damn excited about it!!
CHEERS!
MD

Niels R. November 14, 2013 at 5:21 am

Not to be a d*ck, but the correct name for Leuven is Leuven and not Louvain. Louvain is the French translation while Leuven is a Flemish city.

Other than that, great article! I’m saving it for later reference!

Daniel July 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

Hi,

I have brewed that recipe but the efficiency was very far from what I was expecting according to the recipe (the result was half the planned batch size).

Trying to check what I might have done wrong, I’ve entered all the data on the beersmith and the amounts of water differs a lot from the recipe so as to achieve the batch size.

# 1 – Is there a way to import the recipe to the software?

# 2 – Can my equipment have such a low efficiency to justify this huge difference?

Thank you very much,

Daniel July 10, 2014 at 9:43 am

The recipe I’m referring to is the Brad’s Belgian Wit.

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