Reviewed: Bell’s Winter White Ale
Product description: An alternative to dark and heavy winter warmers and stouts, Winter White is a stylish and refreshing Wheat Ale.
Fermented with a Belgian ale yeast, this blend of barley and wheat malts yields a mixture of clove and fruity aromas, all without the use of any spices. Deliberately brewed to retain a cloudy appearance, Winter White is a beer for embracing winter.
Bell’s Brewery – Bell’s Winter White Ale – 12 oz. bottle poured into specialty glassware – 5% abv.
Besides the alliteration, I never got the appeal of a witbier for winter. Still, Winter White has been Bell’s winter seasonal since as far back as 2004, I believe. Along with that incredible longevity, it could also be awarded most boring winter seasonal in sharp contrast to something like Stone Xocoveza or Sierra Nevada Celebration. The packaging here has also remained unchanged for a long time. Recently, this along with the rest of the Bell’s lineup got a conservative refresh that dumped some extraneous Bell’s logos and increased the artwork size. Add some custom bottle caps for each brand and that’s it. Though they did start offering this beer and most of their lineup in cans. This one gets the 16oz format. That is a pretty awesome upgrade.
From a 12oz bottle packaged on 10/6/2017 (8 weeks old), Winter White is turbid, glowing bright golden in color with a large formation of rocky, dense foam atop. There’s exceptional head retention for this style. Though the beer is already turbid and unfiltered looking in traditional witbier guise, there’s still a good amount of yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle that I opted not to dump in here. A pinch of it escaped the bottle and leaves a little brown dusting on the head like cinnamon powder on a latte. Once I was nearly done with the beer, I dumped it in for fun and it ended up drowning out the flavor. I don’t recommend it.
The aroma is your expected witbier type with bright orange peel, phenolic coriander and clove, and a little extra depth to make it go from good to great. I’d describe it as chamomile tea and candied ginger. It’s a well-defined, expressive aroma that doesn’t stray far from classic witbiers like Hoegaarden, which I think sets the bar for this style. Winter White is not too estery either, which I like. You aren’t getting that ripening banana aroma like you would in a hefeweizen or other American witbier renditions.
Flavor-wise, this is exceptionally well-done. The body is bright and focused on a fantastic front and mid-palate that bring medium creaminess from the wheat addition and delicate balancing bitterness in the background. For the finish, chalk and slate add some minerality but not to the point where it has a dusty or powdery mouthfeel. A touch of white sugar keeps this medium-bodied and allows the citrus zest and spice character to pop. Bell’s is an odd duck in that their website gives you nothing about beer specifications and recipe, but it does say that it is brewed with no spices added. That’s even more impressive.
The overall result is a classic witbier that is technically flawless, brightly flavored, and refreshing. It could easily be their summer seasonal, but Oberon is firmly planted in that slot – a beer that is 90% similar. So, if you are wanting a cold summer beer on a cold winter night, look no further.