Wheat wines are not so common in most parts of the world, but relative to the number of brewers here there seem to be a lot of wheat wines brewed in Japan. Today we’ve got two local wheat wines – the Shonan Beer Wheat Wine and the Daisen G Wheat Wine.
Shonan Beer Wheat Wine (湘南ビール・ウィートワイン)
Package: 300mL bottle
Pour – Cloudy orange amber, not much carbonation but not flat either
Aroma – Very malty aroma but also can smell the hops, sweet, plums
Flavor – Very sweet, also spicy, can taste the alcohol a bit, slight hops on the finish but plum sweetness is very strong, alcohol and plums on the finish
Despite the word wine being part of the style descriptor, wheat wine is a beer and not wine. In fact, it’s a close cousin of the barley wine, except that as you may suspect it is made with wheat, often 50% or more. RateBeer actually lumps wheat wines and barley wines together in the barley wine category, but they are recognized as separate styles in general. As it is a high-alcohol beer that tends to be in the 8%-10% range of ABV, the word wine in the context of barley and wheat wine is used to indicate more that it has a similar strength to wine, but not to imply that it is a kind of wine.
All of that said, wheat wines are newer in terms of history and not as common as their barley wine brethren in general. However, in Japan we seem to see a fair amount of them – besides the Shonan and Daisen G ones we’re trying here, Sankt Gallen and Baird also brew wheat wines, which accounts for a relatively large percentage of the more well-known craft brewers here.
In any case, the first one here is the Shonan Beer Wheat Wine. This is actually the first Shonan Beer product we’re trying here, which in this case I am comfortable saying this is more their fault than ours. Shonan are one of the best breweries here in terms of quality, but their beers are very hard to find in bottles. On top of that, they insist on not only having green bottles (bad for blocking light!) but also only having 300mL bottles. So they’re hard to find and you get less beer per bottle, and it might potentially spoil easier – not a great way to distribute beer, really.
OK, so enough complaining – we managed to get our hands on this bottle at least, so let’s try it. The verdict? Ultimately it’s very sweet. I know that many barley and wheat wines tend to be, but generally I prefer more of an attempt at balance. The hops in the aroma are appreciated, but it’s hard to pick them out in the flavor amidst the sweetness. The sweetness is of the plum variety though, which is nice; unfortunately, it overpowers everything else, and the alcohol is also noticeable, although not too bad on that front.
The Shonan Beer Wheat Wine is a bit of a rare bird here, but I stumbled across it at Tanakaya and snapped it up. While it’s not the best wheat wine out there, Shonan is one of the best breweries in Japan so I try to pick put their special brews when possible. Although part of me also wonders if people drink lots of their draft beer but not their bottled beer then maybe they’ll improve their bottling policy?
Daisen G Beer Wheat Wine (大山Gビール・ウィートワイン)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Gold, almost pink, cloudy, good amount of carbonation
Aroma – Subtle aroma, can detect citrus, earthy hops, a bit dirty
Flavor – Interesting mix of flavors, initially some slight wheat sweetness, then malts that begins to mix with hops, then a mild citrus and sweet bitter finish
Daisen G, a brewer based in Tottori, is relatively well-respected here in Japan, although their distribution is a bit limited. Their big beers (the Imperial Stout, Barley Wine, and today’s Wheat Wine) get the most love, although I quite also like their regular stout. This is our first Daisen G review here, so let’s get straight to the beer.
The Daisen G Wheat Wine is a very well-balance and interesting wheat wine. Starting with the aroma, we get actually a very nice earthy and hoppy effect, almost like a saison. The flavor itself also surprises nicely – the wheat is there and the sweetness is there, but again, the hops really balance it out, and you get a very nice finish that has malts, sweetness, fruit, and hop bitterness. As a bonus, you don’t really taste the alcohol as well. This is a great wheat wine, one of the best I’ve tried in Japan.
While overall I prefer Shonan as a brewer compared to Daisen G, with the wheat wines it’s no contest – the Daisen G has much better balance and is an excellent wheat wine, whereas I think the Shonan is too one-dimensional. A bit of a surprise result, as Shonan really do make good stuff in general, but Daisen G themselves are no slouches and definitely deserve their victory here with a wonderfully balanced and varied wheat wine.
As I mentioned before Daisen G also doesn’t distribute their bottles too widely, but I have seen the wheat wine at both Tanakaya (where I bought this one) and at Liquors Hasegawa (pro tip – for some reason Liquors Hasegawa has a fairly significant markup on Daisen G beers, so it may be worth it to check out Tanakaya first if you’re in the area). The Shonan one also can be found at Tanakaya, so if you’re interested in picking up both of these beers that’s probably your best bet.
Baird and SanktGallen also make wheat wines, so we’ll definitely be looking at those as they become available. We’ll also try to not forget about the barley wines as well!