The Beer: Winter White Ale
The Brewery: Bell's Brewery in Comstock, Michigan
Big beers are usually the name of the game when it comes to winter seasonals, but Bell's Brewery offers a respite from the high-alcohol options prevalent with its Winter White Ale. Contrary to what you'd assume, the name refers not to the season, but rather to the "winter soft white wheat" used in the brewing.
Winter White Ale is made in the tradition of a Belgian Wit ale, which are light, delicate wheat beers typically made from "white wheat" (as opposed to the red wheat used in traditional German weizen beers). They usually employ some level of spicing during the brewing process, with coriander and orange peel typically used to create a traditional beer of this style. Bell's, however, says all spicing in this beer is solely a natural byproduct of the yeast.
Aroma & Appearance: This ale greets you with a hazy orange presentation, made so by the large amount of wheat used to brew it. Small white bubbles create the head and remain intact as you drink. Aromas of smooth wheat, orange citrus, a hint of clove, and a slight, pleasant tartness combine to form a simple yet pleasant aromatic performance.
Flavor: The aromatics continue into the flavor of the beer, led by the white wheat, which provides a smooth, creamy character. Some bitterness appears in the back of the palate, but that's clearly a result of the spicy character of the yeast, not from high hop content. In fact, this style of beer calls for very low hopping rates — just enough to balance the beer, which remains malt-forward. Belgian yeast strains are known to produce byproducts known as phenolics, and these phenolics give off pronounced flavors sometimes reminiscent of bubblegum or clove. The yeast-derived spices blend wonderfully with the white wheat and the low levels of alcohol to create a delicate balanced beer. There's no perceptible hop flavor or hop bitterness in this beer. All flavors are subtle and work together in harmony. This beer would pair wonderfully with a Mandarin garden salad or most entrées made with shrimp.
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Mouthfeel: The beer retains a medium body because of the wheat used in brewing. Wheat contains a high level of protein, giving the beer a fuller, creamy feel. The carbonation level also is moderate, helping to open the beer's aromatics. There's no astringency or alcohol warmth; the beer is subtle and pleasant.
Overall: Bell's Winter White is a very balanced, though malt-forward, beer that highlights phenolic spices, citrus notes, soft white wheat, and a clean, pleasantly bitter finish. Though it's not what a beer enthusiast typically thinks of when it comes to a winter seasonal, it's a nice change of pace for anyone looking for an alternative to the bigger, heavier beers more popular during this time of year.
Bell's Brewery has been making quality beer in Michigan since 1985 and has grown to be an industry leader in the craft beer world. This beer was purchased at the Gilbert Total Wine location, but Bell's beers are widely distributed and available at many grocery stores and most craft beer hotspots. For more information, visit the Bell's Brewery website.