We’re going to continue our look at Japanese wit beers (previous edition here) with the summer seasonal North Island Coriander White and the year-round Baird Wheat King Wit. For our foreign contender we’ve gone away from traditional Belgium (last time we had the Hoegaarden) to modern America with the Stillwater Artisanal Cellar Door.
North Island Coriander White (コリアンダーホワイト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Cloudy straw gold, mild carbonation
Aroma – Wheat aroma quite strong, spicy
Flavor – Very creamy texture, spicy banana, very slight citrus zest and spice on the finish, but finish also diminished by a bit of wateriness
The North Island Coriander White makes for an interesting comparison with the Hideji Hana no White Weiss that we reviewed previously – the Hideji was brewed with weizen yeast instead of witbier yeast, and as the North Island is based on their weizen (and with the strong banana flavors) I am assuming this beer also makes use of weizen yeast. They also both use coriander for flavor, although the Hideji does also add orange peel, and are both 5% ABV.
While they share many characteristics, I found that overall the North Island just fell flatter overall. The citrus and spice flavors were there but muted, and as it warmed up it became a bit watery. I enjoyed the weizen-like aspects of it (creamy texture, banana flavors) much as I did with the Hideji, but overall it was not quite as refreshing and not quite as exciting. That said, I think it would be very interesting to try the two side by side to see if this interpretation holds up.
One aspect of this beer that North Island likes to trumpet is the fact that they use a particular kind of wheat called haruyutaka. It’s from Hokkaido, as is North Island, and it’s said to be a very good wheat that works great in noodles as well as bread. In fact, it’s supposedly known as the “phantom wheat” (幻の小麦), due to it’s high popularity but difficulty in growing – for various reasons production tops out at around 3000 tons a year.
Of course personally, I don’t think I could taste the difference between one kind of wheat and another in a beer. It would be quite fascinating if North Island released different versions of this beer with different wheat, much like brewers release single-hop IPA series nowadays with different hops. In the meantime though, despite the haruyutaka wheat, I find this beer to be not bad but not super exciting. Certainly better examples of the style can be found in Japan, and actually, if a coriander beer is what you’re after, North Island themselves brew the excellent Coriander Black, which in my mind is far superior to the Coriander White.
Baird Wheat King Wit (ウィートキング ウィット)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 15
Pour – Very weak carbonation, a whitish cloudy gold
Aroma – Interesting sugary malt aroma mixed with wheat, also spicy lemon
Flavor – Crisp texture, sweet and spicy dry finish, wheaty, also initially peppery
The Baird Wheat King Wit’s basic premise is that it’s a witbier without any fruits or spices added. That is to say, it’s ingredient list consists of normal beer-like ingredients without anything like coriander or lemon or orange.
Nonetheless, they manage to achieve a pretty interesting combination of aroma and flavor elements, which they attribute to the interaction of the wheat and their witbier yeast. The spiciness is there, and you get some subtle citrus zest characteristics in the aroma and flavor (it should be noted that sugar is an added ingredient). In that sense, it’s something of an impressive showcase for what you can achieve with just yeast (of course, saisons can also get great spiciness without added ingredients), but I do think that judicious application of added ingredients can make for more interesting witbiers.
End result, I find this a worthy effort in terms of making a flavorful witbier without relying on additional ingredients, but there is also the sense that added ingredients (as in a typical witbier) might lead to a more exciting beer.
Stillwater Artisanal Cellar Door
Package: 12 fl oz bottle
Pour – Amber gold, very flat
Aroma – Malt, sugar, pine, more wheat as it warms up
Flavor – Initially lots and lots of pine and malts, then spice and sugar take over, and then very dry long finish with spice kick at the very end, as with the aroma wheat becomes noticeable as it warms up
OK, so perhaps including the Stillwater Cellar Door is a bit of cheating – although RateBeer categorizes it as a witbier, Stillwater themselves label it as a farmhouse ale (and BeerAdvocate also puts it under Saison/Farmhouse Ale).
It does, however, use wheat and spice in the form of sage, so I’m going to say close enough. As with most everything they do, the yeast used is their house saison yeast (in that link, Brian Strumke of Stillwater says that he used saison yeast initially because it was the only yeast that could withstand the warm temperatures in his house!), and I must say, this is a fantastic beer. There is a tremendous combination of pine and spice, and the wheat is also noticeable but not in a too in-your-face way. The very dry and spicy finish is fantastic, and certainly makes the beer more saison-like than witbier-like.
In terms of local distribution, I’m starting to see Stillwater bottles pop up in quite a few of the good bottle shops around Tokyo – Tanakaya, Liquors Hasegawa, Tokyo Liquor Land, Deguchiya, etc. They’re also quite reasonably priced, so I look forward to seeing more of their stuff around town.
In today’s tasting then we’ve had three non-traditional witbiers, if you will – one brewed with weizen yeast (the North Island Coriander White), one with witbier yeast but without any added ingredients (the Baird Wheat King Wit), and one brewed with saison yeast (the Stillwater Cellar Door). Of course, the Cellar Door is a bit of a modern classic and comes highly recommended. The Coriander White and Wheat King Wit are not terrible efforts and worth trying once, but both are also a bit uninspiring. So far in the Japanese witbier adventure I’d say the Hideji Hana no White Weiss takes it, but we’ll be trying more of these in the future as well.