Last week we looked at a couple of weizens in Japan, so today we’ll look at the other major wheat beer, the witbier. Baird has released a seasonal wit called the Sour Attitude Lemon Wit, which we’ll pair up with a very nicely done wit by Hideji called the Hana no White Weiss. Finally we’ll also look at Hoegaarden as our classic European examples of the style.
Before we get too into each beer let’s quickly go over the similarities and differences between a hefeweizen and a witbier. In terms of similarities, they are both wheat ales with traditionally at least 50% wheat. They will also usually be relatively low ABV and not be very bitter. They may also share similar texture and taste characteristics – both are often characterized as having spice flavors and many will find both to be refreshing.
There are, however, significant differences as well. Weizens originate from Germany whereas witbiers originate from the Belgium/Netherlands region, and they usually are made with different yeast (weizen yeast vs witbier yeast). Weizens usually contain no other additional ingredients despite their very fruity or spicy flavors, whereas witbiers typically add extra ingredients like coriander or lemon or other citrus fruits. Witbiers also sometimes use raw wheat, and witbiers will generally be lighter in color.
With that out of the way, let’s look at our individual examples.
Baird Sour Attitude Lemon Wit (ひねくれもののレモンウィット)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 15; Hops – Sorachi Ace, Mandarina Bavaria
Pour – Pinkish gold, almost the color of grapefruit juice, moderately carbonated
Aroma – Wheat aroma is strong, also prominent clove and banana smell, as it warms up a hint of the sansho
Flavor – Initially all lemon wheat, transitions to a strange zesty and tart spicy finish with some sharpness
Baird actually has a witbier in their regular lineup called the Wheat King Wit, which in a departure from most witbiers does not add any extra spices or fruits. The Sour Attitude Lemon Wit seasonal though, as you may guess from the name, does include other ingredients, namely lemon and sansho seeds. For those not familiar with sansho, it is a very spicy, tangy, sharp Japanese pepper that is a relatively common seasoning here.
If you look at the brewer’s notes you’ll see a couple of other interesting tidbits. For one, this beer uses raw wheat as well in addition to malted wheat. They use their house witbier yeast, and interestingly one of the hops it uses is Mandarina Bavaria, which is a relatively recent hop that is very strong on the tangerine. The lemon in the ingredient list is in the form of both peels and freshly squeezed juice.
How do all these ingredients come together? In the aroma, you can easily pick out the wheat and the lemon. As it warms up you can get a whiff of the sharpness of the sansho, which I find interesting a bit too sharp. Flavor-wise, wheat and lemon again dominate, but the sansho is a bit more prominent in the finish as it mixes with the lemon to provide a zesty, tangy, sharp spicy finish. It’s an odd mix, especially in texture – as the initial wheat gives way to the tangy finish it feels like there is a slight rush of carbonation. I can’t say that I can detect anything specific from the Mandarina Bavaria hops, so that is working in too subtle ways for this taster. The sansho, though, is noticeable, and overall I think it’s a nice effect, although as mentioned earlier the aroma is a bit sharp. The sharp spicy finish that it provides is a nice touch, however.
Ultimately, I think how much you like this beer will depend on how much you like lemon in your beer – it’s quite overpowering, and for me it’s a bit too much. Let’s see how the Hideji wit compares.
Hideji Hana no White Weiss (ひでじ ・ 花のホワイトヴァイス)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: Hops – Northern Brewers, Saaz
Pour – Very foamy, very cloudy, light gold
Aroma – Wheat, tart citrus, slight hint of banana
Flavor – Great level of carbonation, very refreshing, creamy texture, wheaty, banana, beautiful touches of citrus and spice but not overwhelming, nicely balanced, slighty tart on the finish
Hideji is a small brewer in Japan that isn’t all that prominent here. This particular beer is a great one and I’ve had it before, but it’s the only one of theirs that I’ve tried. I’m starting to see a bit more bottle distribution from them recently, but they’re still not that common. On tap you may see their Hyuganatsu Lager from time to time, but again, not that common.
Believe it or not, Hideji started as a subsidiary of a petroleum company called Nishida, but became independent as a brewery in 2010. Although initially their brewmaster was Czech, they are mostly known for their fruit beers, like the aforementioned Hyuganatasu Lager or the Mango Lager. I haven’t tried them yet, but here is what RateBeer has to say about the Hyuganatsu Lager and the Mango Lager.
As far as the Hana no White Weiss, one of the interesting things here is that it uses weizen yeast instead of Belgian witbier yeast. I’m not entirely sure if this is due to the weizen yeast but this beer has noticeable banana notes, which is more associated with weizens. The weizen yeast may also explain the high carbonation with the Hideji.
In terms of added ingredients, this beer has orange peel and coriander. They mostly serve to add a slight tangy tartness to the finish, which is a wonderful complement to the wheat and banana flavors of the beer. I also found the carbonation levels to be almost perfect – fizzy and refreshing, but not overly so. This is the second time I’ve had this beer and I liked it the first time, but am even more impressed with it this time. With basically the same ingredient list as the Hoegaarden, it’ll be interesting to see how they compare.
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Cloudy, foamy, somewhat less so than the Hideji, pale gold
Aroma – Spicy banana very prominent, wheat
Flavor – Flavor and texture are wheaty, some hints of spice, slighty tart, overall nice but also some hints of wateriness
Hoegaarden, named after the town it is located in in Belgium, both is and isn’t the classic Belgian witbier. The town itself had been brewing witbier since the beginning of time (well, 1445 according to Wikipedia), but eventually the last of the local brewers closed its doors in 1957. However, not long after, Pierre Celis (who of all things was a milkman) revived the local witbier style in a new brewery he dubbed Hoegaarden, and the rest is history. Except it doesn’t end there – eventually the brewery was sold to InterBrew, which then became InBev, which of course now is notorious for being purveyors of all kinds of Bud goodness.
So anyway, what we’re left with is now an InBev-produced revivalist version of traditional Belgian witbier, so let’s take a closer look. The main added ingredients are orange peel and coriander, just like in the Hideji, and actually, the beers share some similarities in the flavor profile. They both have distinct wheatiness, both have subtle spices, and both have a tart finish. The Hoegaarden, though, ends up being a bit more dull than the Hideji in just about every aspect. I think the two big differences are that the Hideji had much more banana flavor and was more carbonated, and just those two things had a big overall impact on the beer. The stronger banana tones mixed well with the citrus and spice and made for a more interesting combination, and the extra carbonation also really added to the refreshing feel and prevented the Hideji from ever feeling watery, whereas the Hoegaarden at times felt a bit watery.
The Hideji Hana no White Weiss is a fantastic beer, and beers like this are not so common in Japan – to begin with not that many brewers here make witbiers, and to find a great example of this style here is somewhat unexpected. The Hoegaarden is itself a good beer (although some say it’s been going downhill since InBev, but it’s hard to say if this is just the usual anti-macro sentiment or if there’s anything to it), but I’ll take the Hideji Hana no White Weiss. The Baird Sour Attitude Lemon Wit suffers from too much lemon, so for me this ranks a definite third here.
I haven’t tried anything else from Hideji but I’m definitely interested in seeing if their other beers are up to the standard they’ve set here. We will also be looking at other witbiers shortly (I’ve got a North Island Coriander White in the on-deck circle), so stay tuned!