The Roots of Witbier
Also known as biere blanche (French), witbiers (Flemish) are aromatic, rustic, spicy and complex. The name literally means "white beer," a moniker derived from the cloudy, pale pose that they strike in the tumbler in which they are poured. The brewers of witbier showcase local ingredients in their craftsmanship, but combine them with products indigenous to faraway markets. This is an homage to Belgium's history as both a farming culture and an importer of things exotic, a characteristically Belgian juxtaposition.
Belgium, like much of Europe, owes its brewing roots to sustenance brewing in monasteries. The earliest mention of monastery brewing in the home of witbier is in the 14th century. Different regional monasteries produced their own specialties. The area in and around Louvain, east of Brussels, became known for its witbiers. As the monks were highly regarded technicians in the art of brewing all over Europe, their products were coveted.
Local ingredients have always shaped the development of regional specialties, and such is the case for the witbier-brewing area. Until just a couple of centuries ago, beer was made with whatever fermentable grains were easily available. Small farms, utilizing very rich, productive soil, grew barley, wheat and oats of high quality. Naturally, these grains were used to produce the distinctive and unique character inherent in the witbier we enjoy to this day.