Port City Brewing Company | Optimal Wit
ABV: 4.9 % | IBU: 15
How many people have the luxury of drinking a local witbier? Scratch that. How many people have the chance to drink a two-time GABF award-winning local witbier? Port City Brewing Company’s catalog is always quaffable, but none is more exemplary than their flagship beer: Optimal Wit. Many of us can sip enduring classics like Allagash White or Bell’s Winter White Ale, but Optimal Wit brings a unique flavor profile to satisfy all wheat fans in the heart of NoVA.
Although Virginians must import many of their ingredients, Optimal Wit is brewed using local wheat and finished with oats. It is brewed to highlight the zesty grains of paradise along with the traditional additions of orange peel and coriander. The Belgian Westmalle yeast creates a tart, dynamic base to give the sessionable beer layers of deep flavor.
I was introduced to Optimal Wit through the man behind Port City Brewing Company, Bill Butcher. As he was a James Madison University alumni like myself, I was able to interview him for our college paper to discuss the impact of the government shutdown in October 2013, even as Virginia breweries were booming after a 2012 law allowing breweries to sell beers for consumption on location without the inclusion of a restaurant. That article remains my favorite piece I’ve ever written. It defined how the industry is the newest form of welcoming hospitality.
He gave me a sample of all the beers in the company’s primary catalog, but I am still impressed by Optimal Wit’s sharp, welcoming palate. The head is creamy, yet wispy and offers a delightful peppery smell amongst the oranges and coriander. The taste is filled with crisp wheat accentuated by a minimal bitterness. I can see why they added oats to the mix, as they smooth the edges out of the aromatics. This beer is made to stick out as a refreshing beverage for any occasion, offering a citrusy spiceness for all lovers of lighter beers.
To this day, I continue to drink Optimal Wit for its diversity and year-round availability. I love to keep it on hand, especially to use it as the main ingredient in my beer-brined chicken. Wits are phenomenal with poultry, but Optimal Wit’s balanced flavors work wonderfully with the salt and sugar necessary to infuse the meat. It also is that great gateway beer for those who love Blue Moon but are looking for more of that peppery bite.
Optimal Wit represents its name perfectly as a beer made for balance containing everything it needs and nothing that it doesn’t. It does what you want in an American interpretation of a Belgian style to do: Pay respect to the originators while transforming into its own beautiful creation.