Microbreweries and brewpubs are starting to release their summer beers that are full-flavored yet lower in alcohol. It's not a coincidence. They're taking note of drinkers who enjoy assertive flavors -- especially hops and malt complexity -- but tend to shy away from them because these brews can be quite strong. Hinterland just introduced a new beer made with this in mind. Named White Cap, it's based on the popular light Belgian witbier style, but also offers the hoppiness of an IPA.
What is it? White Cap White India Pale Ale from Hinterland (Green Bay Brewing Company) of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Style: White Cap does not fit neatly within a single beer style. While it offers the hoppy bitterness of the India Pale Ale, at its core is the Belgian witbier (pronounced "vit"), or white beer. The witbier is a style that dates back more than 400 years. Modern versions have become especially popular in summer here in the U.S. They are unfiltered, and because they have a high percentage of wheat, are a cloudy pale straw color. Hinterland brewer Joe Karls uses a high percentage of wheat, as well as common witbier spices, orange peel and a Belgian Trappist yeast strain. When they are made with coriander, witbiers often have a light peppery flavor in the background and finish. Originally, such spices were used before hops became a common component in beer. The witbier style has low hoppy-bitterness and alcohol ranging from 4.2% to 5.0% ABV. However, that's where Hinterland's version, with its assertive bitterness from select American hops, breaks with tradition.
Background: White Cap is based on a recipe developed by Hinterland owner Bill Tressler and Titletown Brewing Company brewmaster Dave Oldenburg. The initial version was made by these two Green Bay breweries for a charity event last fall. Now being brewed by Joe Karls at Hinterland as a special release, the first packaged product, six-packs of 12-ounce bottles, just started appearing in Madison.
White Cap is made with a malt grist in which wheat makes up nearly 30% of the total. Karls uses a variety of white wheat known for its high protein content, which adds to the beer's body and mouthfeel. He also adds coriander and orange peel. Then it's fermented with a Belgian Trappist yeast that also lends a light fruitiness to the overall flavor profile. But in tweaking the recipe, Karls' signature is his use of U.S. hop varieties. Centennial hops offer an assertive citrus bitterness to its core flavor, while it's dry hopped (hops added into the fermenter) with nearly 1.5 pounds per barrel of Simcoe for a distinctive piney aroma.
White Cap ends up at 4.2% ABV, with an estimated 66 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). It's sold in six-packs for around $10. It's expected to be available through much of the summer.
- Aroma: A light citrus hoppiness with a hit of orange in the nose.
- Appearance: Bright yellow, hazy color. A thick, soft white head.
- Texture: Light bodied and crisp.
- Taste: A sharp citrus hoppiness with a firm orange-like tinge to the bitterness. The spice from the coriander is found in a dryness to the background that lingers into the finish.
- Finish/Aftertaste: The coriander and dry hoppiness linger as an accent, while there is still plenty of fruity-citrus bitterness.
Glassware: A glass with a slight inward flare near the lip, like a Willi Becher, will focus the citrus notes, especially the hints of orange and hops, and help bring out more of the spicy aromatics of this beer.
Pairs well with: Because of the dry hoppiness, coriander and fruity hint of citrus-orange, this beer goes well with Henning's Natural Heritage Cheddar Hatch Pepper Cheese. A cheese with a subtle chili pepper spiciness of its own, it's just strong enough to complement the crisp bitterness hops. Other peppery cheeses would work; pepper jack might be too strong.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: White Cap is just different enough that those who enjoy finding new beers will appreciate how it approaches the flavor of an IPA with the lightness of a witbier. It's challenging to make a beer that can offer the hop profile of an IPA while also presenting lighter spicy and yeasty nuances and a lower alcohol content. And this is a beer that works well.
White Cap has great flavor and character, and allows the hops to dominate. Again, just to be clear, this isn't an in-your-face hop monster with big ABV. There's a comparable bitterness, but it's cleaner, crisper and a little lighter bodied than what IPA stalwarts often look for in their favorite hoppy brands. I also liked the finish, with its spicy pepper accent from the coriander, which lingers and blends with the pine-like tones of the Simcoe hops. White Cap is a beer that lives up to expectations. It's flavorful, but not so strong that I felt full or sleepy after just one.