What’s the first name that pops off your tongue? If you didn’t say “Hoegaarden”, you probably don’t know what a Witbier is. Or you’re just embarrassed because you don’t know how to pronounce the beer’s train-wreck of a name.* Hoegaarden is the grande dame of Witbiers and easily the most popular in the world. So what characterizes this lovely, Belgian style of beer?
*It’s pronounced “Who Garden”. Like if Pete Townshend and Chris Cornell started a band together.
Witbier (aka: Witte, White Beer, La Bière Blanche) is a Belgian wheat-beer with enough suspended yeast and wheat to give the brew a hazy, glowing white appearance. The ancient style is descended from the pre-hop era beers called gruits which used a variety of different spices and herbs to mask the sour/funky flavor of the brew. The area of Belgium where Witbiers were invented (and where Hoegaarden comes from) had access to exotic Dutch herbs and spices thanks to the Netherlands’ extensive trade network. Belgian brewers used these ingredients, most notably coriander and curaçao orange peel, in their wheat beer, and the resultant zesty, refreshing brew became the style we call Witbier.
The municipality of Hoegaarden and the surrounding areas became the seat of Witbier production in Belgium thanks to some convoluted medieval tax advantages. Those tax breaks disappeared after the French Revolution when the title of the nobleman who enforced the laws was stripped. Over the resulting centuries, the brewing industry in Hoegaarden weakened, and by the 1950s it was all but dead. The last Witte brewery closed its doors in 1957 and it seemed like the style would be lost to the ages.
Enter Pierre Celis, the village milkman. During a drunken conversation in the 60s, Celis decided he needed to revive Hoegaarden’s famous beer style. In 1966, he opened the De Kluis brewery (named in honor of the monks who originally taught the locals how to brew) and Hoegaarden Witbier was officially back. Over the next two decades, Celis grew the brand and it became one of the most popular and successful brews in Europe. Alas, tragedy struck in 1987 when a fire all but wiped out the brewery. In order to rebuild his company, Celis accepted a large loan from Belgium’s biggest brewery, Artois (makers of the famous Stella). In exchange, Artois purchased a huge share of the company. A few years later Artois had been purchased by Interbrew, which was in turn purchased by InBev, which then became Anheuser-Busch InBev. In just two short decades, Hoegaarden had gone from being an independent brewery run by a legendary visionary to just another commodity in the portfolio of the world’s largest and worst brewing corporation.
As you might suspect, the quality of Hoegaarden dropped immensely after AB InBev got their hands on the beer. Looking to reduce brewing costs, they altered the recipe and the beer became a shadow of its formerly glorious self. Frustrated, Pierre Celis sold off his shares of the brewery and departed from his homeland. He moved to Austin, Texas of all places and founded the Celis Brewery which made high quality, Belgian-style beer in the heart of Texas. Alas, corporate interests reared their ugly heads for a second time and Celis’s co-investors sold their share to Miller. Once again, the recipes were altered, the beer was bastardized, and in 2001 Miller closed the Celis brewery and sold the brand name to the Michigan Brewing Company. Mr. Celis, at this point one of the biggest legends in the brewing world, moved back to Belgium and continued brewing until passing away just a few weeks ago at the age of 86. Few brewers have earned the respect, admiration and appreciation of the beer world like the legendary Pierre Celis.
And how is Anheuser-Busch InBev, the current owners of the Hoegaarden brand, honoring the passing of this renowned brewer? Why, by shitting all over his memory as you might expect! I give you, Hoegaarden 0.0!
What the fuck, you ask? Weeks after the man responsible for reviving the Witbier style passes away, InBev releases a non-alcoholic version of his legacy? That’s just…I mean…seriously? Packaged in a flashy gold and white can that looks disturbingly like a Fresca, the beverage has been described as tasting like “a watered-down lemon Fanta”. OK, then! Well done, InBev! Maybe you could dig up Pierre Celis’s corpse and piss on it while you’re at it? You know, just to REALLY add insult to injury!
I know we bash Anheuser-Busch InBev a lot in this pages, but this is just ridiculous. At the very least, couldn’t they have waited just a wee bit longer than two weeks after Celis’s passing before releasing a watered-down, non-alcoholic version of his most famous creation? Apparently not. Well, since this seems to be happening, I figured I’d help AB InBev by giving them some better suggestions for the name of the beer since “Hoegaarden 0.0” is obviously just fucking terrible. Is it a beer or a first-generation, non-beta-tested, bug-filled piece of software? Here are ten MUCH better suggestions for this abomination:
10. Belgian Bathwater
9. I Hate Pierre Celis Ale
8. Snoriander (or Boriander)
7. Hoelander: The Suckening
6. Watered-Down Lemon Fanta
4. I Drank Regular Hoegaarden then Pissed in a Can and All I Got Was This Lousy Non-Alcoholic Beer
3. Orange You Glad It’s Non-Alcoholic
You’re welcome, InBev!