Once upon a time there was an abbey. It had a mill, great water and all the things you need to bake good bread and make beer. But time passed, fewer monks joined the abbey and it fell into disrepair. Then along came an experienced brewer and said, ‘you have the abbey, I have the skill – why don’t we create an abbey beer?’
That was the birth of Heverlee.
I first came across Heverlee in the Safari Lounge who had it as their main lager. I was pleased to be invited to the launch of Heverlee’s first seasonal beer, Heverlee Witte, a wheat beer. I’ve always liked wheat beer, even before I learned to drink hoppier, more beery beers and ales.
Meeting Heverlee Witte
The event that introduced me, and a number of other foody folk, to Heverlee Witte took place at Sygn, who also serve the lager. We gathered in a room at the back, around a big table, where Joris Brams, master brewer, took us on a tasting journey of wheat beers. We looked at colour, considered aroma and flavour, mouthfeel and foam consistency. Heverlee Witte outshone its competition. Then we ate burgers, wings, cheese sticks, prawns and chips, washing it down with helpings of more Witte, and a half of lager for comparison, all the while talking about beer, brewing and the history of Heverlee Abbey. Joris’ colleagues, the Heverlee UK brand ambassador and marketing manager were there to answer our questions and share their enthusiasm for the beer.
Wheat or white?
Wheat beer is light in flavour, lightly hopped or even un-hopped so less bitter than other beers. The name, ‘white beer’, comes from the colour of the beer: yeast and wheat proteins in the beer give it a cloudy, white appearance. (The Germanic words for wheat and white are also similar, so the name has a double root.)
Heverlees Witte is a traditional Belgian wheat beer. It uses 40% unmalted wheat, 50% malted barley and 10% oats to get its particular character. We were interested in the ratio of malted to unmalted grain. The malting process starts the conversion of starch to sugar in the grain, giving yeast something to work with and promoting fermentation. Joris told us that it is possible to brew beer with 100% unmalted grains but that would mean a very slow fermentation period. A blend of malted and unmalted gives you faster fermentation.
Look and taste
So what does the wheat bring? A really firm and steady head, for a start. Heverlee Witte foams in a very satisfying way, and the foam stays for a good long while, it doesn’t immediately go down. The beer’s colour is a light, lemony yellow, and there’s sweetness and citrus on the nose. Citrus is prominent on the palate too, and not surprisingly so since Heverlee Witte is brewed with orange peel. The Heverlee glasses have two crossed keys at the bottom that promote the release of CO2. The stream of bubbles in a glass of Witte look almost like a cloud as they capture the yeast particles in the liquid. The stream of bubbles in the lager, by comparison, is crystal clear.
Heverlee Witte is a lovely, summery beer. We talked of ways of cooking with it and Joris suggested that it makes a great sabayonne. Talk of fruit salad made me think it would also make a great punch. Saying that, it is pretty perfect as it is, in a glass on a warm day. It’d go well with sea food and salads too.
The abbey’s motto is ‘everything in moderation’. That’s a good rule to live by, even when faced with this summery, refreshing and very moreish drink.
Heverlee Witte will be available in bars across Scotland this summer. For details on where to find it, look at Heverlee’s Twitter stream, or use their own Find a Pint page to find your local stockist.
Phone: 0131 225 6060