We’ve had a lot of winter beers of late, so today we’re going for a bit of lighter refreshment with another round of witbiers. This time around we’ve got the Baeren Iwate Yuzu Wit, Kobushi-hana Belgian White, and the Du Bocq Blanche de Namur.
Baeren Iwate Yuzu Wit (ベアレン・岩手ゆずヴィット)
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour – Pale gold, cloudy, good fizzy carbonation but not too fluffy
Aroma – Wheat, tart and spicy yuzu and lemon
Flavor – Fizzy, initially quite wheaty, then a fair amount of spiciness before finishing with a very strong splash of tart yuzu, tartness stays, as it warms up yuzu effects recede and are replaced with a creaminess
As a pretty solidly German-style brewery, Baeren don’t usually make Belgian-style beers, although they do go non-German from time to time (witness the bitter or the stouts they make). This yuzu wit was first released in January of 2014, and has managed to become an annual release.
It’s a bit of an interesting release for Baeren from an ingredient perspective. First of all, as most of their beers don’t require adjuncts, they rarely use ingredients other than water, barley, wheat, and hops. In Baeren’s case, though, as they make mostly German beers, most of their ingredients are imported from Europe (except for the water, of course!) However, the impetus for this beer came from a desire to be able to make a local beer using local ingredients, so they decided to try to make a Belgian wit with local yuzu. The yuzu itself is grown in Rikuzentaka (陸前高田) in Iwate-ken, and is known as 北限のゆず (Hokugen no yuzu, with hokugen meaning “northern limit” and referring to Iwate-ken’s location on the main island). Now it turns out that “Hokugen no yuzu” is actually a marketing initiative that sprang up out of the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 – since long before yuzu had actually just grown naturally in the area everywhere, including in people’s gardens and on the streets, so nobody thought anything of it. But after the earthquake as people looked for different ideas on how to speed up the local recovery, they noticed that outsiders might view the local yuzu as a bit more special than the jaded locals do, and turned it into a brand.
The yuzu is harvested and then hand-peeled for the brew (you can see a bit of it happening here). To complete the local ingredient cycle, the wheat they use is also a local wheat from Iwate-ken called 南部小麦 (nanbu komugi, with nanbu meaning southern and komugi meaning wheat), which is first said to have grown in Japan 2000 years ago.
The Baeren Iwate Yuzu Wit comes out of the gate great, with a very nice flavor profile that develops from wheat to spice and pepper and then finally tart yuzu on the finish. I was pretty impressed initially, but unfortunately as with many witbiers it fades relatively quickly, and the yuzu really drops out of the picture. Even though it didn’t hold up so nicely over time it did have enough going for it – when the yuzu dies out you’re left with a bit of peppery wheat, which is not too bad. I did enjoy this one and thought it a good effort from Baeren.
As with most Baeren seasonals (and regulars too, I suppose), you may have trouble finding this one in stores. The only place I saw it this year was at Tanakaya, but occasionally Nomono, Liquors Hasegawa, and Tokyo Liquor Land will also carry Baeren seasonals, although I haven’t seen this beer at any of those places.
Kobushi-hana Belgian White (こぶし花ビール・ベルギーホワイト)
Package: 330mL bottle
Misc: IBU – 18
Pour -Not much carbonation, relatively clear, clean straw gold
Aroma – Wheat smell is strong, cloves are also strong
Flavor – Wheat, citrus in the middle, very malty and bready on the finish, then a bit of cloves
Kobushi-hana is a relatively minor brewery located in Saitama, just north of Tokyo. They don’t get much distribution, and I don’t recall ever seeing anything of theirs on tap. Stylistically they’re kind of all over the map, with their regular lineup consisting of a Belgian witbier, a German Marzen, a German Maibock, an English IPA, and a Czech pilsner, with their special seasonal being a Belgian triple! So let’s see how they do with our witbier example here.
The Kobushi-hana Belgian White is a pretty flavorful witbier, and while the fruit/cloves aspect might be the most prominent, one of the things I enjoyed most about this beer was the split between the wheat and malty flavors in this beer. The wheat is pretty clear and detectable on the first sip, but as it develops you can really get a good sense of the malt/bread flavors as well, which is a bit unusual for a witbier. While not quite as bursting with flavor as it is right out of the bottle, it still holds up relatively well as it warms up, with the malts able to hold on and give you something interesting, while the cloves also hang in there. It does turn a bit medicinal near the end though, so I’d have to dock it a couple of points for that.
As I mentioned above the are not widely available, but I’ve seen their wares at Tanakaya and Liquors Hasegawa. This one in particular cost 450 yen at Tanakaya, so it’s a decent price to pay for a decent witbier. It’s a regular offering, so while I think there are better examples of this style in Japan it’s worth trying at least.
Brasserie Du Bocq Blanche de Namur
Package: 330mL bottle
Pour -Very pale and cloudy, like apple juice, very foamy
Aroma – Quite pungent, the smell of fizzy lemon-lime is strong, smells remarkably like Sprite or 7-Up
Flavor – Fizzy, tangy, quite soda-like in flavor as well, slightly bitter on the finish, as it warms up becomes slightly more bitter and spicy
This is the first time I’ve tried a beer from Brasserie Du Bocq, so a bit of background is in order. It’s a family brewery founded in 1858 that’s located in the Condroz area of Belgium. If, like me, that means nothing to you, it’s close to the Ardennes region of Belgium. If again, like me, that means nothing to you, it’s southeast of Brussels between Brussels and Luxembourg. They had to do some restructuring in the 1990s but apparently have been growing rapidly since the mid-2000s, and currently export 40-50% of their output. And it’s a good thing they do, so we can try it here in Japan!
I find the Brasserie Du Bocq Blanche de Namur to be a bit of a strange one – it certainly has the requisite lemon-citrus-zest-tang to it, but that combined with the persistent carbonation hides any wheat/malt/hops effects and makes it remarkably Sprite-like. Now, I like Sprite so I wouldn’t say that’s an entirely negative drinking experience, but I did find it lacking in complexity for a beer. To its credit, it did hold up over time quite well, in the sense that it improved slightly – it became more bitter and spicy, which reduced the Sprite-like sensations ever-so-slightly. That said, it was still very Sprite-like. On an unrelated note, being the age that I am, I still have a pretty well-ingrained loyalty to 7-Up and view Sprite as nothing more than an impudent upstart, but given that 7-Up has faded away and Sprite dominates, I find myself comparing this beer to Sprite instead of 7-Up, even though that pains me.
So let’s see how we’re going to score this – the soda-ness of the Blanche de Namur will put that last, and it’s a bit of a toss-up between the Baeren Iwate Yuzu Wit and the Kobushi-hana Belgian White. The Baeren starts great and then loses steam (but gets bonus points for using yuzu), whereas the Kobushi-hana doesn’t reach the same excitement levels (though is still pretty tasty) but holds its level better. So I suppose if you’re going to drink it really fast then the Baeren is for you, whereas if you’re going to take a bit more time with it then go with the Kobushi-hana. All things considered, though, I thought they were both enjoyable, so although February isn’t considered prime witbier season if you need a break from those oh-so-delicious imperial stouts then these two are not bad. Of course, out of the witbiers we’ve reviewed here so far, the Hideji Hana no White Weiss probably still takes it, so go with that one if you haven’t tried it yet. If you have already though, these are certainly worth a comparison taste.