Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Winter White Ale

Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Galesburg, MI

Style: Belgian White (Witbier)
ABV: 5.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Pair With:
• Bass
• Crab
• Eggs
• Halibut
• Lobster
• Salads
• Salmon
• Shrimp
• Sushi
I write this to you in the midst of one of America’s greatest holiday celebrations, the annual right of passage known as Groundhog Day. While it will likely be a week or so before you can actually read this due to a bit of a backlog in the beer review hopper, I can assure you that today Punxsutawney Phil saw his chubby lil’ shadow, officially guaranteeing six more weeks (at least) of winter (as if we in the Midwest really need a giant rodent to tell us this). During my third straight viewing of Groundhog Day on TBS, I got to thinking: “Nigel, you really should stop watching a mildly amusing, 15-year-old movie that you’ve already seen 86 times and finally drink that Bell’s Winter White that’s been sitting on your shelf since early December.” Yes, Nigel refers to himself in the third person even during his inner monologues.

Anyway, with Groundhog Day conveniently falling on a Saturday this year, Nigel has nothing to do today besides watch TV and drink beer (as opposed to weekdays, when Nigel has nothing to do besides drink beer and watch TV). I figured this was the perfect time to finally chill my sixer of Winter White so I could spend an evening watching college hoops and writing a review. Nigel’s life is indeed a rough one, but I do what I can to survive.

Bell’s Winter White is one of about four or five different winter seasonals from this fine Michigan brewer. While it’s a seemingly odd style for the cold winter months, Bell’s has earned the right to do whatever the hell they want without being second guessed by yours truly. The idea of brewing a witbier (that would mean “white beer” if I remember my German correctly, which I probably don’t given the fact that I never actually learned any) correlates with the whiteness of the snow and ice that engulfs the Midwest and blinds us during the winter months, but that’s about the only way it makes sense. Witbiers are brewed with wheat, spices, and Belgian yeasts, making them relatively mild (rarely over 6 percent ABV … this one checks in at 5 percent), refreshing drink. Winter brews typically are of the darker, higher ABV variety so as to provide us with a thick, warming brew (read: gets us drunk quickly). While the blue box with the glistening winter landscape on it seems to say this is a winter beer, the style and makeup of it says otherwise. Personally, I’d select one of Bell’s many fantastic stout or bock offerings, or perhaps Third Coast Old Ale or Hopslam, as all of those are far better suited for winter consumption.

Alas, I’ll work with the hand that has been dealt me. (A stupid statement considering the fact that I’m the one who bought this, so I dealt it to myself …) I’m viewing this with the idea that it’ll provide a nice, light, relaxing drink, which is a nice change of pace in the winter months when the thick monsters can grow a bit tiresome after a while. Even the dorkiest of beer dorks needs the occasional womanly touch provided by a nice, light beer (this womanly touch is even nicer when it’s provided by an actual woman, something that Eddie Glick is likely unfamiliar with). Bell’s web site seems to back up this viewpoint, as Winter White is referred to as a “refreshing winter alternative.”

Winter White pours with about an inch or so of fizzy white head into my official Bell’s pint glass, which quickly settles to a nominal trace. I was somewhat surprised at the relatively low carbonation since many Belgian whites typically are foamier, particularly when bottle conditioned like this is. A cloudy, light golden brew sits in the glass, with some bubbles flowing from bottom to top. I don’t detect much sedimentation in the glass, but there is a noticeable yeasty ring at the bottom of the empty bottle, a promising sign for a witbier.

The aroma is very nice, both sweet and spicy as you would expect for the style. Strong spicy tangs of coriander, cloves, and orange peel bombard the nostrils, along with Belgian yeast and a light, citrusy zip. While it’s pleasantly aromatic, there’s nothing about it that distinguishes it from any other craft Belgian white out there.

The taste is decent and does in fact provide a light, refreshing alternative to the darker, thicker brews common in the winter months. Initial spicy notes hit the tongue first, just as they do in the aroma: coriander, cloves, and orange peel. Belgian yeast and pale wheat malt provides a nice, earthy balance to the initial spiciness. Light citrus flavors of grapefruit and orange are also quite detectable, adding to the overall lightness of this. It’s definitely flavorful, but no more so than many other craft witbiers; I’d call this very good, but not good enough to reach the four-mug threshold. Winter White is both light and smooth on the palate; the only potential turn-off that may make it hard to tolerate for some is the spice. If you don’t like the spice typical of Belgian ales, I’d stay away … otherwise, this is a prime candidate for a session brew with its light body and low ABV. Not only is it a nice change of pace in the winter months, but it would be tasty and refreshing regardless of season or weather.

While I’m not going to rush out and stock up on Winter White before its seasonal run ends (there’s about a month left), I did enjoy this experience. It’s a nice Belgian white, though it’s only slightly better than average. It won’t offend, but it does little to distinguish itself from a number of other similar craft witbiers. If you’re looking for a temporary respite from the standard winter fare, give this a shot. Otherwise wait a couple of months for Oberon, which is a superior wheat offering from the folks in Kalamazoo.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 13, 2008.
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