Guinness Open Gate White ; Open Gate Brewery Halethorpe (Baltimore) Maryland
Date: October 31,2018
The Story— See the week’s post to the left for much of the story.
We’re Witsnobs. Pierre Celis, the man who single singlehandedly saved the Belgian Wit style from oblivion, became a friend over the years. In 1987 he showed us through his second wit brewery in Hoegaarden — both burned, driving him eventually to Texas. He was an incredible guest many times at tastings we hosted at the legendary Brickskeller Saloon in Washington DC.
We first tasted the indescribably perfect Hoegaarden Wit during our 1987 visit to the brewery. One of the “secrets” of its beauty was the six-weeks or more conditioning — an ale that was treated as a lager. That concept was an important part of our Hop Pocket Ale and we owe Pierre a debt of gratitude for our Great American Gold Medal. Pierre’s beer balanced spice and chalky yeast and some fruit in a way that rarely has been approached much less less duplicated. Some day here, we’ll reveal the other “secret ingredient” that brewers around the world have “known” he added but one he never revealed. Late one night at the Bricks he smiled and let us in on the secret knowing we would keep our mouths shut. And we have. But he’s been gone from us in this world for a while, and I think he’d get a heavenly laugh if the “secret ingredient” were finally revealed. We’ve talked about it in some of our tastings in the past year or two and we’ll post it here… but not now. The grains of paradise in the Guinneess version is one of the suspected ingredients, and the Guinness brewers use it well in their Wit. But, sorry, guys, it wasn’t what Pierre poured into his beer.
After Pierre took us through is brewery, we were able to continue drinking his Wit at a hotel in the nearby business town of Tienan. The hotel, which had English language TV – rare for 1987– served perfect glasses of the Hoegaarden Wit on a silver tray with a silver dish of peanuts. It was one of the best beer experiences of our lives.
The brewers at Guinness don’t claim to duplicate the divine Pierre, but they do a far better than average of capturing the spirit of his wit. Thousands of breweries on both sides of the Atlantic brew the style, but most fall far short. In the US our go-to wit is Allagash, but in a curious way, the Guinness guys give the US standard a run for its money.
The Beer— Grains of Paradise give an unusual full spice and two orange varieties and some lemon peel give an oily citrus that runs beyond a traditional wit. Unmalted wheat (a Pierre Celis US trick) and a chalky Guinness yeast keeps it all more or less in the fold, Ellie found it a very professional blend of flavors and I certainly don’t disagree.
Value — Very Good. O,K, it’s hard to call a $7.50 a US “pint” a bargain, but they fill to the brim which gets it close to a real pint. More importantly, this is a beer of stature — an overdone style done with exceptional– and somewhat daring– skill.
This week we present our first Brewery of the Week with seven fine beers from Guinness– most brewed in their spanking new Baltimore location, but a couple of Irish pots of gold as well.
After Guinness we return to HIGHLIGHTS OF EUROPE– Surprisingly good beer in “bad beer cities.” The best we’ve found in researching our next book – a guide to great beer in European tourist cities. (Planned publication 2019.) We’ll shift back to great American beer finds next week.
Later in November we return to the US to highlight some great American craft beers, some of which we’ve found in researching out first US Beer publication: Brews and Snooze-– Breweries you can visit and walk back to a fine place to spend the night. Look for it in 2019.
About these posts: We taste and evaluate over a thousand beers every year. The beers posted here rank in the top quarter of those tastings. Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.