Aside from being a great reference to the sign on the roof of Stonecloud Brewing Company, Neon Sunshine Belgian Wit is a flavorful beer that carries with it a long and interesting history.
Wit beer (also known as biere blanche, white beer, or Belgian wheat beer) has been a popular drink throughout history going all the way back to the Middle Ages. This style of beer was considered somewhat of a provincial product, local to the Flemish countryside of Belgium and was produced utilizing the local cereal grains and spices from the neighboring Netherlands. What is really interesting about this beer is, despite how widespread the style is now, in the 1950s it was essentially dead. One man can be credited with pulling this beer back from the grave, and that man was a humble Belgian milkman named Pierre Celis.
As lager beer marched towards dominance as the favorite style amongst beer drinkers worldwide, regional styles such as Wit were crushed underfoot. Pierre Celis, perhaps a little wistful for the Wit beer of his youth, decided he wanted to revive this style that hadn't been produced anywhere for almost a decade.
Celis started his own brewery named De Kluis ("The Cloister" in Flemish) and found success making a beer that Belgians seemed to remember and enjoy. Sadly, in 1985 De Kluis suffered a devastating fire and the only way for Celis to rebuild his brewery was through investment from the Belgian brewing conglomerate Interbrew...who would go on to become InBev...who would go on to become Anheuser-Busch InBev. ABInbev still produces Pierre's Wit beer, which was named after the town his brewery was located in, Hoegaarden.
Now what does a former Belgian milkman/brewer do once he has been bought out by the corporate suits? He moves to Austin, Texas, of course! Pierre took his brewing knowledge and started Celis Brewing where he produced Celis White, hoping to recapture the success he had found as a brewer back in Belgium. Despite the high quality of his beers, the nostalgia for the Wit style was not there and the American public was just not quite ready to fall in love with his flavorful product. Keep in mind that this was a time in America when the most-popular beer was mass-produced adjunct lager that was made to be clear, fizzy, and low on flavor. Celis ended up being bought out again, this time by Miller Brewing...which went on to become MillerCoors. The Celis brand was eventually sold off by MillerCoors, but the Wit style was not forgotten and was later repurposed as the Belgian wheat beer, Blue Moon.
So now, what makes a Wit beer unique? Well one of the main differences in a Wit is the grain bill. Whereas almost all beers use malted grains, a Wit uses unmalted wheat to give the beer a haze and a slight acidity that is common to the style. The other big standout of the Wit style is the use of spices that give it a signature flavor—specifically coriander and orange peel, as well as chamomile, grains of paradise, anise, and/or other exotic ingredients.
Aside from the grain bill, spicing, and low hop characteristics, this beer is also generally brewed with a Wit beer specific yeast that will produce unique esters and phenols that add to the layers of flavor in this refreshing summer sipper. So without further ado, on to the review!
Neon Sunshine clocks in at a fairly sessionable 5.5 percent ABV, but this would be considered at the high end of BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) guidelines. The IBUs are not listed, but the style calls for a very low amount of hops—8-20 IBUs per the BJCP.
Aroma and Appearance
Immediately out of the gate I get a strong, but not overpowering, aroma of coriander. The orange aroma acts as more of a setting in which the coriander note settles. The phenols and esters from the yeast blend well in this mixture and acts as a peppery wake-up call to the nostrils for this beer you are about to enjoy.
The color is pale straw to light gold and it certainly has the haze one would expect from the style. The head is like a nice fluffy foam layered on top that does have some staying power.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
The aroma of this beer does not deceive and the first sip is just an extension of the flavors that have already primed your palate. There is a very pleasant acidity that makes this beer nice and crisp, while still having a light to medium mouthfeel from the additional proteins derived from the wheat.
There is very little-to-no hop flavor perceived, and the finish is very clean with just a hint of coriander and orange flavors left behind. This is a beer that could easily disappear in large quantities by the pool on a hot day, and it is easy to see why it was popular in the Belgian countryside.
For a flagship beer, Stonecloud Brewing definitely went with a crowd pleaser. A look at the wide range of offerings from Stonecloud would have most fledgling beer drinker's heads spinning (I’m looking at you, Grodziskie). But Stonecloud knew what they were doing and produced a beverage that is accessible and very enjoyable, and will certainly have people coming back for more.
Remember: every time you buy a beer, you are making a choice. Not just about what you are having, but about where your money is going. You can give it to large brewing conglomerates that couldn't really care less about our community, or you can give it to the guys with the brewery in downtown OKC. So for the sake of Pierre Celis, put that Blue Moon down and go out and get some Neon Sunshine before the summer is over.