The sharpest wits at the tasting


For this tasting, we assembled 19 wit biers, roughly half Belgian and half American. The tasting panel consisted of Charles Perry, Betty Hallock and Father’s Office owner Sang Yoon. One general principle soon emerged: The larger the bottle the wit is sold in, the better it tends to be. This delicate style survives better in large bottles, and the people who sell wits in small bottles often seem to be aiming at lager drinkers.

That said, there are degrees of quality even among the big-bottle brands. The ideal wit balances fruity wheat beer flavors (clove, banana), spicy additives (coriander and orange peel), a yeasty note (to provide a middle palate, because wit is not very malty), tartness and a drying touch of hops in the finish. Many wits fall off the track at one or more of these points: too much (more rarely, too little) banana or clove, too much or too little spice, too little hops or (especially in American versions) too much. Here, listed in order of preferences are notes on our top choices from among the wits we tasted.

Allagash White. From Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, this was the best wit of the tasting, offering an ideal mix of yeast, coriander, orange, clove, tartness and delicacy. Hop dryness brings the aftertaste to a gentle but decisive stop. 5.2% alcohol. At Beverages & More, store locations at; Beverage Warehouse in Los Angeles, (310) 306-2822,; Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463, About $7 for 25 ounces.

Hoegaarden Wit Bier/Bière Blanche. The beer that started the wit revival; made by InBev. The import version has spice and tartness but little of the fluffy yeast flavor of this style. 4.9% alcohol. At Beverages & More; Beverage Warehouse; Cap N Cork Jr. Market in Los Angeles, (323) 665-1260; Hi-Time Wine Cellars. About $9 per six-pack.

Ommegang Witte. This beer from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., tastes at first a little like a wine, then the yeast flavor kicks in. A bright wheat beer with a dry finish but only faint spice. 5.1% alcohol. At Beverage Warehouse; Wine Expo in Santa Monica, (310) 828-4428. About $6 for 750 ml.


Blanche de Chambly. Canadian brewer Brasserie Unibroue makes this wit, one of the best beers of the tasting for yeast character with a flavor heavily dominated by banana. 5% alcohol. At Beverages & More; Hi-Time Wine Cellars; Hollingshead’s Delicatessen in Orange, (714) 978-9467; and Liquorama in Upland, (909) 985-3131, About $6 for 750 ml; $9 per six-pack.

Lost Coast Great White. From Eureka’s Lost Coast Brewery comes this mild version of a wit bier with a smooth finish. 4.5% alcohol. At Beverages and More; Liquorama; Red Carpet Wine Merchants in Glendale, (818) 247-5544, About $7.50 per six-pack, $4 for 22 ounces.

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat. An attractive beer, made by Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing of Chippewa Falls, Wis. It has notes of banana, tropical fruit, orange peel, coriander and a mystery spice, but at the bottom it’s more like a hefeweizen than a wit bier. 4.9% alcohol. At Beverages & More; Beverage Warehouse; some supermarkets. About $8 per six-pack.

Blanche de Namur. Imported from the Belgian brewery Brasserie du Bocq, in Pernode, Belgium, this is a wit with a good, yeasty and fruity nose. The palate is low in hops and acidity. 5% alcohol. At Hi-Time Wine Cellars. About $7 for 750 ml.

Blanche des Moines. Also from Brasserie du Bocq, this pleasant quaff has a mild nose and citrus tartness. 4.5% alcohol. At Hi-Time Cellars; and Wine Expo. About $10 for 750 ml.

Jan de Lichte Dubbelwit. This entry is from a tiny Belgian brewery in Erpe-Mere, Brouwerij de Glazen Toren. The flavor is bright and a little rich; very attractive but not really wit-like (and the highest alcohol content of the group). The nose has the faint farmyard aromas of a Belgian gueuze made with wild yeasts. 7% alcohol. At Hi-Time Wine Cellars. About $14 per 750 ml.

-- Charles Perry