Tasting Witbiers in a Vacuum: A Comparison of the Style

In a vacuum, nearly any beer can have its strong points. This is the struggle of beer reviewing - we can only make judgement within our own experience, using our own situation, within the vacuum that is our own life.

This past weekend, I encountered this vacuum firsthand. The beer was an White Rascal, a Belgian wit (aka: Witbier) from Avery Brewing. The situation was that it was delicious. The struggle was that I couldn’t figure out if the beer actually was delicious or if I was simply excited to be a few step closer to summer and the beers that make it great.

Was this beer from Avery - a hard-to-find brewery in our area, given their recent pull from Minnesota shelves - as good as I thought? Or would I be just as happy with a Blue Moon? Was I satisfied with the beer itself or the opportunity to try the style again after a weird and horrible winter?

Let’s do a tasting.

I gathered Neighbor Amy and Wife Kerrie and settled down with a handful of witbiers - those coriander-spiced and orange peel adorned beers that have been made famous by Coors Brewing’s Blue Moon franchise. From cheap to expensive, American to Belgium, well known to relatively obscure, we sampled up and down the tasting board and came to one conclusion:

Beers are hard to judge. And witbiers all begin to taste the same after a while.

The lineup: * Blue Moon (Coors Brewing) * White Rascal (Avery Brewing) * White (Lakefront Brewing) * White Label (Wasatch Brewing) * Witbier (St. Bernardus)

Tasting was done blindly, and we all had differing tastes, but it was clear to all of us from the beginning which of the five was Blue Moon - a darker beer that slid too far to the wheat side of things and offered a one-note, flat flavor. Blue Moon is exactly what it’s supposed to be: a Belgian wit for the BMC faithfuls - an introduction to the style, but not a great example. Blue Moon ranked last on all of our lists.

The space between Blue Moon and the rest wasn’t as wide as one might think, however. Kerrie and Amy had trouble with the St. Bernardus - the highest rated beer of our group, according to BeerAdvocate - for its lack of sweetness compared to the other witbiers. It was nutty and dry, closer to what we’d think of a standard wheat beer, with its spices muted and a crazy champagne-like carbonation.

Why did this high-rated beer fall so flat on our group? No idea. Perhaps the traditional witbiers has been bastardized by us Americans - in other words, maybe THIS was the standard taste and all others were TOO spiced. Maybe we got a bad bottle. Maybe we don’t know anything at all. Heck, maybe it was the weather.

None of it matters. St. Bernardus ranked poorly in our house on that day. Sorry, monks.

We’ll skip over Lakefront’s White, which was tart and sour and not very great - and jump to our two favorites: Avery’s White Rascal and Wasatch’s White Label.

I’ve talked about White Label before, but this time I suggest you go grab some. In comparison to the rest of the Belgian wits we tried, Wasatch was more complex and flavorful - refreshing after a long day and surely wonderful as a dinner beer. Avery’s White Rascal was delicious - and it came in a can! - but you can’t get it anywhere close to here so you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

In the end, we ranked Avery and Wasatch at the top and Blue Moon clearly on the bottom, but these rankings fall into that weird vacuum. Even comparing the beers to their brothers and sisters, we had issues with judgement. What does the genuine style consist of? What would the rankings be like if Kerrie’s favorite witbier - [Boulevard Zon] - was available? Are my tastes off because, when it comes down to it, I’m not the biggest witbier fan?

There are only two answers.

Taste is relative. And it doesn’t matter - as long as you’re enjoying the beer you have in front of you.