beer reviews Beer styles

Pointlessly Imported Wheat Beer

Hitachino's Nest wheat beer.

This wheat beer might be pretentious, it might be obscure, but you can’t say it was expensive. It is certainly, however, pointless.

We don’t get much opportunity to pick up exotic bottled beer these days but, at the National Brewery Centre in Burton the other week, we couldn’t resist raiding the ‘bin ends’ in the gift shop, and came away with a 720ml bottle of Japanese brewery Hitachino Nest’s 5.5.% German-style wheat beer, for a mere £2.50.

Just on its ‘best before’ date (we think), it fizzed on pouring, hissing and foaming itself to death, leaving us with glasses of something that looked like cloudy apple juice. Despite the lack of condition, it was a tasty enough beer, falling somewhere between the sticky-toffee-banana character of Schneider and the pineapple-pear drop character of Hopf. As we find is often the case with German-style wheat beers from anywhere other than Germany, there was also a touch of spiciness (from the yeast?) which suggested the coriander of the Belgian style.

So, it was fine, but… why bother? This beer makes sense in Japan, we’re sure, where it is a local version of something from the other side of the world, but what is the point of importing it to the UK? It’s been made with such reverence for the almighty style guidelines that there’s nothing distinctively Japanese or in any way ‘different’ about it; and, though better than Erdinger, isn’t worth buying over, say, Franziskaner.

Hitachino Nest owl mascot.We think it all comes down their mascot — a beautifully illustrated owl which deserves its own 8-bit computer game — and to the same impulse that leads what seems like 90 per cent of British men under the age of forty to dress head-to-toe in clothes from faux-Japanese brand Super Dry: that is, fashion, and a very understandable fascination with other cultures.

12 replies on “Pointlessly Imported Wheat Beer”

I’m pretty sure all the mad exotica for sale there was sent over as entries for the International Brewing Awards, and they fluff off anything that wasn’t used for testing in the competition.

That would make sense.

It is being imported and fairly widely distributed in 330ml bottles as well, though, isn’t it?

I passed on it (at a commercial level) for exactly the reasons you outline above.

I think the majority of imports are fairly pointless except for collectors, or people for whom a foreign beer is more fashionable. How many beers are a) still in tip-top condition by the time they get here and b) really, honestly worth the import price premium? I buy Schlenkerla and maybe the odd Stone beer – for me not much else gets through both criteria.

Am I right in thinking that you’re not crazy about Belgian beer? When we buy imports, it’s almost always from Belgium. Even though a few British brewers are beginning to produce convincing Belgian-style beers, there aren’t many; they’re not quite as good (yet) as, say, Westmalle Tripel; and they’re often much more expensive.

You have a point there. For a long time there wasn’t much Belgian stuff available round here other than a few dusty bottles of Chimay and Westmalle, though that has happily changed recently, so it’s never been a regular purchase.

Ten years ago I was mostly drinking bottled beer, & I tended to buy about half-and-half British and imports, mostly Belgian. Then something happened, possibly involving the Euro: the imports got thinner on the ground, the prices of the ones that were available went up and I more or less gave up. Haven’t had a Rochefort or a Westmalle in yonks. A few places that carry a good range of Belgians have appeared in recent years, but I’ve never reacquired the taste – it’s so easy to get good & interesting British beer now, both in supermarkets and in pubs.

You could add to that American versions of Central European styles. I have frankly never bothered with any lager or weizen coming from across the ocean, not when I can buy some truly great Czech and German stuff and a much better price (and in a proper half litre measure, I should add).

I guess I buy stuff like this for various reasons – partly to try something new if I haven’t had it before (because I can’t have informed opinions on stuff, good or bad, if I haven’t tried it myself); or to see what is happening in a specific country’s beer scene (even if in the case of Japan there is no ‘Japanese beer style’ as such, it’s all about styles from elsewhere and often foreign brewmasters too, but I still want to see what they’re up to); or specifically in the case of a style like weizen, because I have very specific weizen-flavour needs that often aren’t met by even a lot of German weisses, so I’ll probably want to try a German-style weiss from anywhere in the world if I think it might deliver up the flavours I’m craving. £2.50 a bargain for getting to try out a Japanese beer in this size of bottle though!

Not sure if I can convey exactly what I mean in a comment here, but I think *discovering* that it’s pointless is useful, even if the beer itself is unexciting. I agree that copied styles are rarely as good as ‘the real thing’, but I would still buy them because I want to know that for myself.

As would I. But after doing that for years, you eventually get fed up of wasting your money. It has to be said that an awful lot of beer – imported or not – is simply not worth the price.

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