It's been a long time since I had a genuine Belgian white or "whit" beer,
and that makes me nervous. After all, what I criticize
as faults might be features of the real thing, little quirks blurred by
an old man's memory; what I praise might be flaws in an American caricature.
Anyhow, I used to drink quantities of the Celis version of white beer,
brewed in Austin, Texas or thereabouts under the direction of a genuine
Belgian. [Celis is a company in Austin, TX that makes Belgian-style beers.]
I could distinguish it from the Belgian versions only because
it was always fresh, and because it was also cheaper I stopped drinking
the imports. For a while I drank few other beers. (Similarly, the best
Belgian chocolates I've ever tasted were made in Danville, Illinois by
real Belgians, including a lovely young woman, slightly rotund from too
much sampling...) I believe that it was AjD who told me that the Celis
operation has been acquired by Miller, but that the founder is still in
charge. Miller seems to be limiting distribution: certainly it was AjD
who told me that Celis beers are no longer available in Michigan, and I
have trouble finding them here in Montana.
A white beer is a wheat ale: in mashing, high-enzyme barley malt acts
not only on itself but on wheat, and the resulting beer is cloudy when
cold from residual proteins. This is known as "chill haze" and in most
beers it's considered a defect; if I recall, the wheat for white beers
is hard wheat, especially rich in proteins, and makes the haze even worse.
The proteins and unfermentables from the wheat make the beer thick and
rich, but not as sweet as an all-barley beer; there's a strong taste of
wheat and almost a starchiness. Traditionally, coriander and orange peel
go into a white beer, and tend to overwhelm the mild hopping.
Blue Moon Belgian White is slightly darker in color than Celis, which is
almost straw-colored. The chill haze is thicker, and stays thick even
as the beer approaches room temperature: an inch or less blocks images.
(Think of Corn Husker's Lotion, which is supposedly used as a stand-in
for human semen in pornographic movies -- that's about the opacity.)
The neck label gives oats as another ingredient: probably these exacerbate
the haze, and I fancy that I can taste them; I don't know whether they
are a traditional ingredient of this style.
Taste. Perhaps the coriander and orange-peel tastes are slightly overdone,
or at least stronger than in Celis or the Belgian versions, but they are
still pleasant. The oats, perhaps, provide a flavor reminiscent of egg
whites or soy-protein powder or even oatmeal, but it's not flagrant or
jarring: it seems almost to belong in this beer. There's some bitterness,
as of hops, and to my taste it's about right as well. If you like Belgian-
style white beers as much as I do, you'll probably enjoy this version from
Blue Moon. I'd still rate Celis as slightly better, but this is more than
an adequate substitute.