Witbier in Japan

If any style of beer tastes like it was made for summer drinking, it’s Belgian White. This wheat ale of about 5% alcohol is usually brewed from half malted barley and half unmalted or malted wheat. It is fermented with Belgian Ale yeast, which leaves it tasting rather spicy, and traditionally witbier also contains coriander seeds and orange peel, which add to its flavor and aroma. Hopping is normally very low, contributing little aroma or bitterness.

White beer is, of course, not really white in color. It is, however, one of the palest yellow brews around, and is always unfiltered, so that the yeast in suspension gives the beer a whitish haze. The wheat also gives it a big, sturdy head, which is pure white. Wheat makes the beer light and soft, while giving it a tangy, fruity character that is extremely refreshing and is complemented nicely by the orange peel.

Witbier originated in the Middle Ages, in the Flemish areas of Belgium, where wheat was grown in abundance, and where spices could be obtained from nearby Holland. After a period of decline in the mid-20th century, the style was reborn in the 1960s in the guise of Hoegaarden, which is still the most widely-known Belgian White in the world. It is available all over Japan, though the present, industrially-brewed version is not what it used to be.

We don’t bother with this famous brand, however, as there are many better Japanese examples. Many of these use alternative spices and fruits. Hitachino Nest White Ale is well known: it includes nutmeg and orange juice for a tangy, spicy, full flavor, and is as popular in the USA as it is in Japan. Minoh’s Yuzu White contains fruit grown on mountains near the brewery, and recently won a gold medal at the World Beer Cup. It is pleasantly tart and dry, showcasing the yuzu, and super refreshing.

When it’s not quite so hot out, we sometimes prefer a more high-alcohol Wit, upwards of 7-8%, like those made by Isekadoya, Shimane, and Yokohama. Versions without additives are also getting more popular, often with dry hopping to provide the spicy, citrus character, as in Daisen’s recent White Nelson Sauvin.

In Japan and elsewhere, “Shiro biiru” is often marketed as a girl’s drink. While it may be true that many women like it, in a Japanese summer, Witbier is surely not just for the ladies.

This is shared content with Japan Beer Times: www.japanbeertimes.com








by Mark Meli