Leveraging my time at home during COVID, I am studying for the second level of the Cicerone Certification Program, to hopefully become a Certified Cicerone. For those unaware, the Cicerone Program “certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers.” Essentially a Sommelier but for a better drink.
A significant part of this test is knowledge of different beer styles, so to keep myself honest in researching, I am writing a weekly review of DMV beers brewed in classic styles and comparing them to the official guidelines of the style. First off is Optimal Wit, a locally ubiquitous Belgian-style Witbier from Alexandria’s Port City. Both a crowd pleaser and loved by beer nerds, Optimal has won numerous awards, including 3 medals from the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) – Silver in 2018, Bronze in 2015 and Gold in 2013.
I’ll begin by noting how the beer “should” look and taste:
Belgian Wit Guidelines from the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP):
A refreshing, elegant, tasty, moderate-strength wheat-based ale.
Appearance is very pale straw to very light gold in color. The beer will be very cloudy from starch haze and/or yeast.
Aroma is moderate malty sweetness with light, grainy, spicy wheat aromatics, often with a bit of tartness…. often with a complex herbal, spicy, or peppery note in the background. Moderate zesty, citrusy-orangey fruitiness.
Flavor should follow the aroma while being refreshingly crisp with a dry, often tart, finish… spicy-earthy hop flavor is low to none, and if noticeable, never gets in the way of the spices. Hop bitterness is low to medium-low.
Vital Statistics: Very low IBU, SRM of 2-4, ABV ranging from 4.5% – 5.5%.
Now, how does Port City’s award-winning Optimal Wit hold up? It pours hazy with a sizeable fluffy head. Nose is citrus, spice and banana. This Wit drinks easy with clove, white pepper (yes, I laid out both white and black pepper on my hand to make sure I knew the difference, and do recommend if you love coughing) and coriander standing out in addition to the orange and banana that pop out of the glass. I get a little residual malt sweetness that plays well with the creamy body. As my glass becomes emptier, pepper spice and hop herbaceousness come out and stay on the tongue a little more, along with a pleasant citrus tartness. Very mild to no bitterness at the end. Very easy to drink two, or three. Seriously. I didn’t even get a picture this went so quick.
A little sweeter and less crisp than Allagash White or traditional Belgian versions, plus a longer finish of pepper I haven’t noticed in other examples. Otherwise, Optimal Wit tracks pretty perfectly with the guidelines for a Belgian Witbier, perhaps adapted a bit to the American palate. Color, perceived bitterness and ABV are all on point. A true exemplar of the style for the summer and year-round. No wonder it has won so many GABF awards and a permanent spot on DC taplists.
Next Week: American Pale Ale – Right Proper’s Raised by Wolves!