How To Brew Witbier

by Steve Thanos Updated on May 1, 2021 Belgian Beer Brewing Recipes

Witbier is a moderately strong pale-colored wheat beer with a touch of spice that makes for a rather tasty and elegant beer.

History has proven that the Belgium’s relationship with beer is usually centered around sustenance, whether it be on the farm or in the monasteries.

The witbier style, also known as “biere blanche” in French speaking parts of Belgium. 

Homage to the Past

Even though Belgian brewers begrudgingly accepted the use of hops, the witbier and other Belgian styles paid homage to the past by using spices and herbs.

As lagers gained popularity across Europe through the late 1800s and the early 1900s, Belgian brewers did not have a choice other than to close their brewery doors. 

From Milkman to Brewer

When all looked tragic for the future of witbier, here comes Pierre Celis. He was a milk man who really loved local beer. He took it upon himself to save the witbier style and reshape it to its past glory. Celis built a small brewery in his shed in 1965. It was here that he experimented with many witbier recipes.

By 1966, Celis’ first Belgian witbier was released to the Belgian public. This caused other Belgian brewers to follow suit. 

De Kluis

Celis decided to move his brewery to an abandoned soft drink facility and named his brewery De Kluis (The Cloister). After a fire and the realization that he was under-insured, Celis sold a piece of his brewery to Stella Artois.

Three years later Stella merged with Piedboeuf and became Interbrew. Celis began having difficulties and disagreements and it wasn’t long until he packed up and headed to America. 

Welcome to America

While in America, Celis settles in Austin, Texas. With help from his daughter, he opens Celis Brewing Company in 1992. Celis White became very popular with the local craft beer patrons.

Celis did not learn his previous lesson and fell in with big beer. This time Miller had their claws in him. Instead of compromising, he decided to move back to Belgium. 

A Recipe is Saved

After sales were diminishing a year later, Miller shelved the Celis name. Ironically, they closed due to the compromises Celis fought against. Michigan Brewing Company had the rights to the Celis trademark.

After 2012 then the MIller owned Celis Brewery closed, daughter, Christine Celis, relaunched the family brewery. She decided to bring back her father’s witbier recipe. 

Style Profile for Witbier

Appearance

Witbiers will appear cloudy, almost milky. The color will be sun-soaked straw to pale yellow-gold. Head will be dense, white and creamy. Head retention is excellent.  

Aroma

Malt aroma will be light, sweet, somewhat spicy, with light wheat tartness and some graininess. Coriander can come across as herbal. The yeast will bring out the added peppery and spicy notes.

Hops can also be characterised as spicy and herbal, but should not be too prominent. Some fruitness may be present, usually citrus and/or orange.

The beer should come out balanced with a perfect harmony between the spice, fruitiness, floral, and sweet aromas. 

Flavor

Malt is sweet with possible hints of vanilla and/or honey paired with citrus fruit. Some wheat flavor is present, including some tartness.

A nice, complex mix of herbal spiciness, including coriander should be detectable, but never overwhelming. Hop flavor will be low as is the bitterness. 

Mouthfeel

Due to the unmalted wheat, the beer will be smooth with a creamy mouthfeel. Body is medium-light to medium. Carbonation is high which is effervescent. The carbonation builds on the light acidity. The finish is dry

Tips for Brewing your own Witbier

Grain

The grist for a witbier is usually pretty simple. A 50/50 blend of unmalted wheat and very pale malt. The palest barley is what you want with a focus on quality.

Usually Belgian or German pilsner malt will do the trick, although American pilsner or 2-row will get the job done. It is recommended to avoid pale malt as it is kilned at a slightly higher temperature than pilsner or 2-row. 

Hops

Since the hop profile for this style is pretty mellow, a restrained, low alpha acid, herbal, and earthy hop will be perfect for this style.

German noble varieties such as Saaz, Hallertauer, East Kent Goldings, and Styrian Goldings will be a good choice. Some American hops with European ancestries such as Mt. Hood, Willamette can be used as a substitute. 

Yeast

Yeast selection is pretty important here, like most Belgian beers.

Some good yeast selections include:

  • Wyeast’s Belgian Witbier 3944
  • Forbidden Fruit 3463
  • Belgian Wheat 3942
  • White Labs’ Belgian Wit I WLP400
  • Belgian Wit II WLP410

Spices

Most Belgian wits are known for its spice characteristics. Coriander and bitter orange are very authentic to the style. Purchasing unground coriander seeds and grinding them yourself is a good idea. Add the coriander 5 minutes before the end of the boil. Typically 0.5 ounces to 1 ounce is the right amount for a 5 gallon batch.

Bitter orange peel can be purchased from a homebrew shop or zest from fresh oranges can be good too. For dried add 0.5 ounces per 5 gallons and for fresh zest 0.25 to 0.5 ounces.

Both can be added 5 minutes prior to the end of the boil, same as the coriander. 

Witbier By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 2 – 4 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.052 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.012 FG
  • IBU Range: 8 – 20
  • ABV Range: 4.5 – 5.5%

Martin Keen’s Witbier Recipe

Grain

  • 53%        4 lbs  8 oz      Pilsner Belgian
  • 40%        2 lbs  8 oz      Wheat Malt Belgian
  •   7%        2 lbs  8 oz      Wheat Flaked
  •                10oz               Flaked Oats
  •                1 lb                 Munich 
  •                3 oz                Candi Sugar Clear

Hops

  • 1 oz         Saaz – Boil – 60 min
  • 2 oz         Fresh Orange Peel (Sweet) 5 min
  • 1 oz         Chamomile 5 min
  • 1 oz         Coriander   5 min
  • .25 oz      Seeds of Paradise  5 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg   Belgian Whi II WLP410

Directions:

  1. Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins
  2. Boil for 60 mins 
How To Brew Witbier

Transcript: There’s something satisfyingly simple about the ingredients that go into making most beers. Take today’s beer for example, Belgium Wit it’s simply a case of using water malt and yeast and hops and chamomile and candy, sugar and sweet orange peel and paradise seed. Yeah, simple?

Hello, my name is Martin Keen. I’m taking the Homebrew challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. And as I’m working my way down the BJCP guidelines, I’ve reached a new category. Category 24 Belgian ale, like one of my favorite categories this is going to be a wonderful few weeks and we’re starting today with Belgium wit.

So let’s get this guy mashed in, uh, as usual I’ve got my grist already measured out milled, all done for me by Atlantic brew supply. Thanks guys. And there is a fair amount of wheat malt here almost 50%. So I am going to throw in a few scientific handfuls of rice hulls, and I’ll be mashing today at 154 Fahrenheit. That is 68 Celsius.

Now Belgium Wit it’s a wonderful style. It’s malty, sweet, and also has a citrus and spice character to it. Uh, you’ve probably had one or two yourselve. The most well-known examples I think are Allagash White and Hoegaarden witbier.

Now today’s recipe comes courtesy once again of a mean brews. I’ve featured them on the channel before. Go check out Matthew’s channel. He has a ton of good content on there. And Matthew tells me that this recipe has won six different Homebrew awards.

So I think it’s going to be quite good.

I’m trying not to shoot every segment of these videos in my unfinished basement, just for a little bit of visual variety. So as we talk about ingredients for no good reason, here’s my game room. Yay.

Okay. So this beer is going to have an original gravity of 1.050 about a 5% beer. Now I’m using as my base malt, Belgium Pilsner malt, and that’ll make up 43% of the grist. Now this is a Witbier, so we need wheat. The wheat is coming in two forms. I’m using 24% each of Belgian wheat malt and flaked wheat. I’ve also got 6% of flaked oats in this recipe.

And 1% of Munich one. I don’t normally add 1% of anything, but Hey, I’m just following mean brews award winning recipe. Now that gets us to 98% of the grist. The remaining 2% will be coming in the form of candy sugar.

Check this out. I’ve got this fancy new keg from Kegco. We’ll take a look at that in a sec, but first of all, I just wanted to talk a little bit about my keg lifecycle. I guess you’d call it. The way that I am cycling kegs through my brewery. As I very rapidly go through so many different styles.

So first of all, a keg is filled with beer and it stays in here in my kegerator. When it is done, though, it needs to go through a cleaning cycle. Now, typically after brew day is done, I will fill my kettle with PBW and leave it to soak overnight. Then the next day I will rinse out any of my used kegs and fill them with a full five gallons of PBW and let them sit in here for a day or so.

I’ll then drain the kegs and then use this gadget, which gives me the jet of high pressure water to rinse out the residue from the keg. Then I’ll store my kegs here under pressure. That way I’ll know if there are any leaks or not. And that’s basically it. Now I do have a set of tools that I can use to open these kegs up and give them a more thorough clean, but that’s basically what I do on a weekly basis with my kegs.

The folks at Kegco reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in taking a look at one of their kegs. I generally just use secondhand corny kegs, um, or Ballock. And this is a Bal lock five gallon corny keg as well.

So let’s take a look. It is a beautiful design. It looks so much nicer than my, uh, my regular Pepsi corny kegs.

On the top you’ve got your standard in and out posts. Ballock posts came pressurized, and then just inside, we’ve got a standard fit tube down to the bottom. So this is very much what you’d expect from a regular corny keg, except with this handle here at the top. Um, and I’m going to be putting this to use with today’s beer.

Now, when it comes to adding the flavor profile with Belgium wit there’s a couple of ways you can go here, you can try and do it entirely through hops.

I’ve seen some recipes that have really done that quite well, where you’re just using sort of citrusy and hops a little bit of earthy character to them as well. Um, I’m not doing that.

So I’m only adding one hop addition and that is Saaz hops. These are super low alpha acid hops, and this will get me around 16 IBU of bitterness. This will go in at the start of the boil.

Everything else is going to go in with five minutes to go. So I’m adding some candy sugar. I’ve got Chamomile here as well. A sweet orange peel is going to go in, and then I’m also adding coriander seed. This will give a sort of earthy and tart quality to the beer.

And then I have seeds of paradise or paradise seed. Uh, and this is something you want to use sparingly. This will give the beer a bit of a peppery note as well as a bit of citrus flavor. Mean brew recommend one quarter of one ounce to go in. Also, I am going to be crushing up the sweet orange peel and the seeds of paradise.

I’m going to pitch my Yeast. This is white labs, WLP 410 Belgium wit ale II. Going to hook this up to my glycol chiller and look forward to tasting this one.

I’m gonna make a bold prediction. I think with this being a Belgian beer, which I like, and it being a wheat beer, which you like, that we’re both gonna enjoy this beer. Well, that’s a good prediction. Let’s figure that out. Shall we?

What do you think about the appearance of it? First of all, it’s very bubbly, bubbly and cloudy, right? It’s got that wheat cloudiness to it. Yep. It’s inviting, it smells fresh as well. What do you think about the aroma? A bit fruity. Yeah, just sorta, uh that’s right. Sort of a fresh, fruity smell to it. I think it looks good and smells good. So. All right. Well, let’s try it.

Oh, I didn’t expect her to taste like that. When I say like that it kind of tastes, um, I was expecting like, like an orange peely kind of taste, but actually it tastes a bit like very different, but like either a bit of cinnamon or a bit of like coriander, something like that.

All right. I just had to go have a look at the recipe. Okay. See if you’ll write that, that coriander, because it does a lot in here. Okay. So there is a fresh orange peel. Okay. So I’ve got orange pill, which I think you got on the aroma. I smelled, a sweet, yeah.

Uh, there’s also chamomile. Okay. Um, seeds of paradise and coriander seed. Okay. Definitely taste the coriander, but there is so much sort of sweet spice in it. It’s a bit peppery. Yeah. It is a bit peppery. So there is a reason for that too. Freestyle. That’s what the seeds of paradise are. Oh, okay.

Well, I think it’s safe to say, I don’t think any of the beers that we’ve done so far taste anything like this. No, no, not at all. It’s very complex. And if you want to get the recipe, it would be down in the description. You can purchase it at Atlantic brew supply. And on that note, I think a big cheers. You’re a pro at this, I’m trying.

Cheers!

Steve Thanos: Former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.