Would you believe us if we told you a Belgian milkman was responsible for Blue Moon’s ubiquity? He very well may be: In the 1960s, Pierre Celis lived in the village of Hoegaarden, a region once known for its witbier (the so-called “white beer”—brewed with barley, wheat, oats, coriander, and orange peel—had fallen out of favor back in the 1950s). Missing the style, he brewed a batch of witbier in his milk shed in 1966.
Hoegaarden, as it’s now known, was a huge hit, an international sensation that led the way for witbier’s modern revival. In America, Blue Moon introduced witbier to a wide audience, while Shock Top and Ommegang brought once-rare unfiltered witbiers into the national spotlight. It’s little wonder why they became instant hits: their low alcohol content and refreshingly tart twang make them ideal summertime beers. When pairing with cheese, look to milder wedges such as chèvre or Monterey Jack to avoid overpowering the style’s delicate, graceful character.
Five Beers to Try
Allagash Brewing Company
Back in 1995, Rob Tod had a pretty bonkers idea: found a brewery in Portland, Maine, and focus on then-obscure witbier. The ploy was a pretty good one, as White has become one of America’s top witbiers—its hazy hue and huge creamy head due to judicious amounts of oats and raw wheat. Curaçao orange peel and coriander lend a spicy complexity.
Try it with: Vermont Creamery Mascarpone
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Namaste White Belgian-Style Witbier
Originally conceived to send karmic goodwill to fellow brewers felled by fire, Namaste is now one of the Delaware brewery’s biggest hits, in part due to its culinary-inspired approach. The zesty witbier is liberally infused with peppercorns, dried orange slices, coriander, and fresh lemongrass, which lends the easy drinker a Southeast Asian appeal.
Try it with: Chèvre d’Argental
Boulevard Brewing Co.
Zon Belgian-Style Witbier
Named after the Flemish word for “sun,” the Kansas City brewery takes a traditional approach to its summertime seasonal. Brewmaster Steven Pauwels, a Belgian native, opts for prudent amounts of orange peel and coriander, the spices present but never overpowering, in the low-alcohol ale that tiptoes in at 4.4 percent ABV.
Try it with: Rumiano Cheese Company Original Jack
Great Lakes Brewing Co.
Holy Moses White Ale
It’s not that Moses. The inspiration behind the Cleveland brewery’s white ale is Moses Cleaveland, who founded the city in 1796. Holy Moses is spiced with the customary orange peel and coriander, but the addition of chamomile supplies an earthy, floral underpinning that makes it sing with soft cheeses.
Try it with: Ferme de Jouvence Brie Fermier
Port City Brewing
According to the Virginia brewery, Optimal Wit “tastes like sunshine and happiness,” an apt description for this crisp, orange peel–brightened winner that took gold at 2013’s Great American Beer Festival. The key ingredients: Virginia-grown wheat, which lays a smooth base, and grains of paradise, which lend a gentle peppery bite.
Try it with: Maple Leaf Cheese Pepper Jack