Beer & Wine Beer

Hoegaarden White Beer Review

This gold standard of the witbier style is as refreshing as ever.

Hoegaarden Belgian White beer bottle
Image:

Liquor.com / Laura Sant

liquor.com rating:
4

Hoegaarden White Beer is a veteran of the import beer aisle that still delivers a bright, refreshing drinking experience. Its fruity, spicy flavor profile excites the palate without overwhelming it, showcasing hints of orange peel, banana, clove, and bubblegum with a crisp finish that makes it a crowd-pleasing option and a clear standout in the Belgian witbier category.

Fast Facts

Style Belgian witbier

Company Brouwerij van Hoegaarden (AB InBev)

Location Hoegaarden, Belgium

IBU 13

ABV 4.9%

MSRP $13 per 6-pack

Pros
  • A historic beer from a brewery that brought the style back from extinction

  • Bright, fruit-forward, and refreshing

  • Easy to drink

  • Non-traditional ingredients lend unique flavors.

Cons
  • Bears little resemblance to its original recipe

  • Some drinkers may be genetically sensitive to its aromas and flavors (e.g. “Band-Aid”).

  • Quality control and old bottles can be an issue in some markets.

Tasting Notes

Color: This beer pours a bright straw yellow that is completely hazy in the glass. It forms a tall, thick head that threatens to escape over the edge of the glass if poured too hastily or incorrectly.

Nose: There’s an exuberantly bright nose that’s filled with fruity aromas including citrus, bubble gum, and banana peel. These are balanced out by hints of herbs and spices, such as coriander, clove, and black pepper, as well as light floral notes.

Palate: The first sip is medium-bodied and creamy on the palate, bringing herbal and spice flavors early on before fruity and citrus flavors crest and wash across the tongue like a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit bubblegum. However, unlike other mass-marketed witbiers, this one shows restraint, making it a refreshing sipper.

Finish: Each sip finishes on a crisp, dry note that helps to highlight the refreshing qualities of the beer. Spice and herbal flavors and aromas linger long after on the tongue with just a hint of a plastic-like flavor poking through, which can be typical of the style due to the type of yeast used in brewing.

Our Review

The craft beer boom has generated its fair share of success stories, but Hoegaarden still remains one of the most cited examples of a brewery reviving an extinct style. While Hoegaarden can technically trace its witbier production all the way back to 1445, beer tendencies in post-war Europe shifted sharply to mass-produced lager as wheat beers largely became associated with the geriatric drinking crowd. This change in preferences, along with economic strife felt across Europe, led the last witbier brewery to close its doors in 1957, essentially making the style defunct.

Decades later, in the 1970s, a milkman named Pierre Celis who had grown up next door to a Belgian brewery and had occasionally helped in making beer as a boy took it upon himself to bring back the traditional style. He saw the popularity of his product skyrocket across his home country just as fire devastated his original brewery in 1985. Interbrew, one of the largest conglomerate brewing operations in Belgium at the time, stepped in to help with recovery efforts. Unfortunately, Celis later said that the money had come with strings attached, as the larger brewery forced changes to the recipe that betrayed the product he had helped revive. Celis eventually sold his shares of the company in 1989, and decades of acquisitions in the beer world left Hoegaarden in the hands of AB InBev, which operates and markets the brewery to this day.

It may feel like a quaint memory today, but before the domestic craft beer boom of the late 2000s and early 2010s, devoted beer drinkers across the U.S. often found themselves forced into the import aisle if they wanted a beer that was exciting to the senses. And while it may be far from the only wheat option in the beer aisle for quite some time now, it’s still hard to find a beer professional who thinks the historic witbier’s position in the pantheon of revered products isn’t merited.

Despite its meteoric yet tumultuous rise, Hoegaarden has since held a special place in the American market. Of course, that market has grown considerably since Hoegaarden first arrived amidst a sea of mass-produced light lagers. What was once considered a bastion of bombastically fruity, spicy flavor now faces competition from a surge of local breweries, many of which have mastered the intricacies of the witbier style and done an excellent job of marketing it to customers looking for a refreshing beer option. Hoegaarden may now have its work cut out for it, but it has still arguably preserved its status as the gold standard of witbiers. For one, it’s less assertively spicy than other widely available options in the category, and it has a more mellow finish, which can be seen as either a drawback or a benefit depending on personal preferences.

Ultimately, the refreshing qualities of this witbier are what make it stand out as a clear winner in certain scenarios. It’s an excellent bottle for your first outdoor patio beer of the season, and its low ABV makes it an appropriate option for anyone looking to enjoy more than just one. You might get mocking glances from American beer aficionados if you add a slice of orange to your pour, but a European would likely encourage you to indulge the urge. It’s food-friendly, too: Bright flavors make this beer a great pairing for both brunch favorites like frittatas or Eggs Benedict and seafood such as clambakes and lobster rolls.

It should be noted that due to bottle conditioning, it’s important to pour it into a glass to avoid pulling in a mouthful of yeast while finishing the dregs straight from the bottle. If you’re looking for the best tasting experience, it’s well worth it to hunt down some glassware.

Interesting Fact

Not all wheat beers are created equal: Hoegaarden is a Belgian witbier, meaning it’s made using mostly wheat in the mash bill, but it differs from German or American-style wheat beers. Witbier—which actually translates to “white beer” in Dutch, not “wheat beer,” as it may sound—is often made with added ingredients such as curaçao orange peels or coriander, while hefeweizen and American wheat beer recipes stick strictly to barley, hops, yeast, and water.

The Bottom Line

There may be more flavorful wheat beers to choose from these days, but Hoegaarden still provides a reliably refreshing option for fans of the style. It stands out from competitors for showing restraint in spiciness without sacrificing overall flavor. Its bright, citrusy notes also make it a great gateway bottle for those who may not typically consider themselves beer drinkers.