Is Orchard White back? A while ago, I read reports that The Bruery had sacrificed it in the name of expansion and barrel aging since it was a bit of a soft seller, but we’ve seen it on bottle shop shelves here and there recently. We snagged one, of course, because we were conditioning our second attempt to clone it. Hopefully this bottle isn’t a dusty remnant of good beer past.
Now that we have that bottle, we’re doing a side-by-side tasting of our lavender witbier and the absolute benchmark against which we judge all wits.
Brilliant, strawlike and cloudy: in short, exactly how a witbier should look. The keg is well carbonated, so the head is prominent, although it isn’t rocky and does settle down to a thin ring after a few minutes. No lacing to speak of. We simply haven’t mastered lacing yet.
Orchard White looks surprisingly similar to ours, although its head is pillowier and you can easily see the tight cascading bubbles that are the mark of expert bottle conditioning.
Our witbier smells powerfully of lavender and coriander, too much so. The bitter orange peel is lost in those strong flavors, which is unfortunate. In future batches, I’d dial back both the lavender and (especially) the coriander and add a touch more orange during secondary conditioning. I want esters to be the star of this beer’s aroma, with the spicing building quietly beneath them, but the lavender and coriander run all over this.
Orchard White, naturally, has exactly what we want. The dominant aroma is both yeasty and juicy (think bruised apricot flesh and white pepper) in the way you’d want a classic witbier to be. There are hints deep in the nose of the additional spices. Lord, what balance.
Here’s where the difference between the ales becomes stark. Lavender is there in Orchard White, as are orange peel and coriander, but they act as accents. Our witbier tastes like it smells---like a bit of a lavender/coriander bomb. The lavender imparts a floral soapiness that takes it too far for my tastes, and the coriander, while not hammy, will stick with you long after a sip. We’ll certainly drink it because it’s crisp and dry, but we know we missed the flavor mark.
Our clone is exceptionally dry. Our final gravity was roughly 1.003, which makes this beer really easy to drink. However, as dry as we claim our witbier is, it doesn’t match up to the crisp, almost oaky finish of Orchard White. The carbonation is as intense on the tongue as it looks in the glass. It’s champagne like and magical.
Overall, this is a better attempt to clone Orchard White than our first try, but we’re several adjustments away from approaching the beauty of what The Bruery achieved. We’ll get there, but it’s going to take us another three or four attempts. I can’t say it’s a competition beer, sadly, so we’ll be looking for a surrogate to send to the NC Brewer’s Cup, but you have to be adventurous and make mistakes if you’re going to learn, right?
In the meantime, we’re going to hoard every bottle of Orchard White we can find..