Tuesday 2 February 2016


I have of late turned my back, consigned to the lumber-room of precious memory, marked down as moderate and minding my own business, that sweet child of Belgium, the witbier, the spicy, fruity, refreshing beer that I first tasted, as did many, when someone suggested I try a hazy pale beer served in a chunky glass. Yes, Hoegaarden, though now this beer is undreamt of, unkempt in my mind, and part of the past as a foreign country. I last had it in the late 1990s, when it was juicy, orangey, silky and refreshing. And then its soul fell off a cliff. There have been other witbier moments along the way: 11 years ago on a sunny July afternoon at Du Bocq and a glass of Blanche du Namur was an easy drinking, engaging, uncomplicated companion chattering away in the glass. More grown up and with a sense of broodiness that would have suited Macbeth in one of his more lucid moments, there is the creamy and luscious Blanches des Honnelles from Abbaye du Roc. And yet, the Belgian witbier and those versions made by breweries from all over the world have remained in the memory room, locked up and forgotten. What went wrong?

As ever and in search of untying the ropes that had tethered my tastes, I went In search of new sensations, the rapaciousness of an avalanche of hops, potent potentates of dark beer, irregular shapes thrown by this yeast or that yeast or that sour bug bugging away in the wood. The witbier became an irregularity in the world of my beer drinking. And then this weekend, as if it had never been away there it was again and I remembered how I had forgotten that I knew when made at its best the Belgian witbier was an elegant, cheerful, uncloistered, friendly, thirst-quenching troubadour of a beer, something to be calibrated and celebrated when it came to the palate.

And the beers that reminded me, were kind to me even though the style had been left all alone as if waiting for a bus that never came? They were both from the Americas: Allagash White, smooth and flirty in the dance its spice and fruit made on the tongue, throat catching in the thirst that it quenched, a beautiful beer; then there was C5 Saga Ale Blanca from Mexico, which was sent to me with several other Mexican beers, though this was the stunner amongst the bunch. With a coriander spice and pepperiness, edge-of-palate sourness and Orangina-like fruitiness it brought in a big searchlight of summer to the dank and dark January night on which I tasted it. Both beers reminded me of the beauty that could be a Belgian witbier and it’s to my shame that it’s a beer style I’ve neglected for so long. Sometimes, in the rush for nirvana and newness we forgot the sturdy, the survivor, the subtlety and surprise that a beer we thought we knew can still bring.