This is our second Japanese weizen review, following our first one here. Today we also have a Fujizakura Heights weizen (which is a good thing, as Fujizakura Heights are generally very good), this one being the Mandarina Bavaria single hop limited release weizen. Before we get to it we’ll try the Swan Lake White Swan Weizen, and end it with the famed Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original.
Swan Lake White Swan Weizen (スワンレイク・ホワイトスワンヴァイツエン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 8
Pour – Very pale yellow, not much carbonation for a weizen, appears flat
Aroma – Banana, cloves, wheat, very mild aroma
Flavor – Some slight banana at first, slight wheatiness, turns watery and bland very quickly, finish is basically water
Before we get to the Swan Lake take on the weizen, a quick recap of our first review – the Fujizakura Heights Weizen was very banana estery, the Baeren Summer Weizen was more spicy, and the Weihenstephaner was more bitter and overall well-balanced.
As for the Swan Lake White Swan Weizen. this is one of their regular beers but not so popular. In fact, it’s also quite hard to find any real information out there on this beer – about the only thing I could glean was that it’s brewed using weizen yeast and wheat (which is basically the definition of a weizen). The one interesting tidbit I could find was that it has an IBU of only 8, which is quite low, even for a weizen. According to the BJCP style guide, 8 is the very low end of the IBU range for a German weissbier; for reference the regular Fujizakura Heights Weizen has an IBU of 12 and the Weihenstephaner 14. It actually got me wondering what the lowest IBU beer is out there, and while there’s no definitive answer the Hottenroth from The Bruery clocks in at a modest 2 IBUs (of course, as a sour beer it would be lower than a non-sour beer but still).
The beer itself is quite watery, and not really something that can be recommended. It does have some hints of banana and the wheat is definitely there, but overall it is very bland. It’s definitely not something I would purchase again, and even though this is slightly cheaper than most other Swan Lake beers (this one cost 540 at Le Collier, compared with 760 for the Swan Lake Porter at the same store) it’s not worth it.
Fujizakura Heights Mandarina Bavaria (富士桜高原・マンダリナバーバリア)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 28; Hops – Mandarina Bavaria
Pour – Very foamy and cloudy, lots of sediment, pale ale copper gold
Aroma – Lemon grapefruit citrus aroma, definite hops, some dirt
Flavor – Tangerine tang at first, followed up by lemon wheat, then slight hops on the finish, very creamy smooth texture
The Fujizakura Heights Mandarina Bavaria is one of a few limited release German hefeweizens that they brew from time to time. Since they have a very successful and well-received weizen, they’re able to use that as a base and generate different variations with consistently good results. In the past, they’ve released different weizens such as the Aroma Weizen, the Oktober Weizen, the Summer Weizen, the Premium Weizen, and probably more that I’ve missed.
This particular one, then, is different from their normal weizen in that it is a single-hop weizen that uses only the Mandarina Bavaria hop. We discussed this hop a little bit in our earlier Baird Sour Attitude Lemon Wit review, which also uses Mandarina Bavaria hops, but to quickly recap this hop is known for being very tangerine citrusy.
And in tasting the beer, you will see that it is indeed very tangerine citrusy. This is a wonderful take on a weizen, and very different from what most would consider a traditional weizen and even their base weizen. Their base weizen, which is a very good one in its own right, is very heavy on the banana, but while this one does have some hints of banana it mostly highlights the Mandarina Bavaria hop and has lots of lemon and tangerine citrus notes to give it some tang around the wheaty middle. The finish emphasizes the hops and gives you some bitterness (at 28 IBU this is very bitter for a weizen), and overall it makes for a fantastic beer. Their regular weizen is a good one, but I prefer this one – quite a special beer, and if you can find it you should definitely give it a try. I’ve seen it at Liquors Hasegawa and at Tokyo Liquor Land in addition to their online store, but they don’t last long so if you see it snap it up.
Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original
Package: 500mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 14
Pour – A darker amber color, moderate carbonation
Aroma – Banana is prominent, sugar, almost caramel malt
Flavor – Initially sugary and malty, slight banana, then turns tangy and finishes spicy
If you’re American and therefore by definition America-centric, it’s easy to forget how old Europe is, and when I say old I mean it in a good way. Especially with the recent craft beer explosion, which has basically been defined by American brewers and American styles, sometimes we overlook the fact that some European breweries have been producing awesome beer for centuries, and still do it today with the same recipes and brewing techniques.
Schneider Weisse is one of those breweries. While not quite as old as Weihenstephaner, they have a pretty storied history of their own. They were founded in 1872 in Bavaria, when King Ludwig II sold them the exclusive right to produce wheat beer – in one of those legal quirks (I want to say this only happened back in the monarchy days but of course there are lots of arcane and ridiculous laws on the books and even actively enforced in the U.S. of A.), up until that time, in Bavaria only the royal family was allowed to brew wheat beer. Due to declining sales they sold that right to Georg I Schneider, and amazingly the brewery has been kept in the hands of the Schneider family since then – the current head is Georg VI Schneider.
As their name implies, they brew a few different wheat beers, which are usually named Tap something, with the something being a number (like Tap 7, for this one). The Tap 6 Aventinus is an amazing weizen bock which hopefully we’ll get around to reviewing soon, but the Tap 7 Unser Original is the same weizen beer that they started brewing in 1872. It’s actually still brewed following the original recipe from back then!
The recipe itself calls for 60% wheat and 40% barley, and uses Hallertau Tradition and Magnum hops. On a side note, Hallertau Tradition hops were developed in 1991, so if you’re paying attention and wondering how this original recipe from 1872 incorporates a hop developed in 1991, you’re not alone – I assume they use the phrasing “original recipe” with some leeway for hop substitution, which is normal since hops were very different in 1872.
Their FAQ also has some notes on their current production methods. They still use open fermentation, which is more costly but they believe gives their beer a balanced spiciness. They skim the yeast off by hand, and then it undergoes bottle fermentation, and they don’t pasteurize or filter their beer. It’s pretty interesting to see that they’ve tried to preserve their old brewing methods as much as they can, whereas a brewery like Weihenstephaner, which is much older than Schneider Weisse, actually is uses very modern techniques and technology.
Their comment about the open fermentation providing their trademark spiciness is interesting – this weizen definitely is focused on the spiciness, but in a balanced way. One of the other prominent flavor components is sweetness, but it lean more towards caramel sweetness versus the estery banana sweetness that we see a lot with weizens. I find the wheat to be somewhat de-emphasized and get a bit more malts here than normal with a weizen, which adds to the complexity of the Tap 7.
Ultimately, however, while I do think there’s a lot going on here, it doesn’t really come together well. It’s like that old sports cliche about the sum being greater than its parts – in this particular case the parts are there, but something about the way they mix doesn’t quite work. It’s an interesting drinking experience and definitely worth trying (probably more than once), but in today’s tasting session the Fujizakura Heights Mandarina Bavaria was far superior, and I think the elegance and balance of the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier from the last review was also far superior.
A small distribution note – the Schneider Weisse Tap 7 Unser Original was purchased at Tokyo Liquor Land, which reliably has Schneider Weisse stuff. Tanakaya also carries some of their beers, and Tanakaya always has very competitive prices on all of their beers. As winter approaches we’ll be be looking out for some local weizen bocks to put up against the Schneider Weisse Aventinus, and of course as there are still lots of weizens in Japan we haven’t gotten around to we’ll be continuing this series as well.