Centuries ago, the monks of Hoegaarden, Belgium, divided their time among prayers, devotion, brewing and winemaking, and in 1445 they discovered the process that created wheat beer. Though certain historical records suggest that the very first wheat beers were intensely sour, the monks – showing great patience and some truly inspired experimentation – came to blend their brew with Curaçao orange peel and coriander, and refined Hoegaarden wheat beer into the blend known today.
Growing over the centuries, the village of Hoegaarden became a true brewing center. By the end of the 19th century, Hoegaarden had 36 breweries and just 2,000 inhabitants. Although the future looked bright, challenges arose by the mid-20th century. Industrial production, new refrigeration techniques, the post-World War II economy and the increasing popularity of clear lagers all took their toll.
The “lager revolution” pulled most of the global market away from traditional wheat beer, and in 1957, Tomsin, the last wheat beer brewery in Hoegaarden, closed its doors. In 1965, faced with the prospect of their beloved beer being lost forever, a group of Hoegaarden villagers planned to revive the beer. Village milkman Pierre Celis, who had worked at the Tomsin brewery before it closed, faithfully recreated the authentic recipe and almost single-handedly revived Hoegaarden’s brewing industry.
By 1985, production was booming, and Celis was just about to begin exporting to the United States, when a fire destroyed the brewery. Artois, the brewers of the famed Belgian brew Stella Artois, offered to help in return for a share of the business. This new relationship led to the Hoegaarden brewery’s reconstruction and the continued production and worldwide distribution of the legendary wheat beer.
Subtype / Style
Originating in Belgium, Witbier – “white beer” – is brewed with a combination of unmalted wheat and malted barley and is usually very pale to almost white in color. Also known simply as “Wit,” this wheat beer can exhibit fruity aromas and flavors of coriander and orange peel and is generally light-bodied. Belgian Witbier is often served garnished with a fresh orange slice. The juice interacts with the beer’s wheat proteins to produce a creamier consistency.