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Toshiyuki Kiuchi’s Hitachino Nest Beer
By Jim Clarke


In 1996, after 173 years as a sake brewer, the Kiuchi Brewery began to produce beer as well. Prior to 1994 Japanese regulations had actually made this expansion difficult, if not impossible, so Hitachino Nest Beer was in the forefront of a microbrew revolution. Many of the revolutionaries have already stumbled, however, largely due to beers that were too timid to make an impression on the drinker. In a short time they have already made a name for themselves by releasing creative brews that tip their hats to a number of international influences, radically different from the lager-styles of Japan’s “Big Four:” Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory.

In terms of craft, the move from sake to beer was not a big jump; although many people associate sake more with wine, beer and sake are both made from grains and share a similar production process. The jump in flavor profiles is bigger. While sake is known for a sophisticated and, for Americans at least, restrained character, craft beers are noted for boldness. Hitachino hasn’t yet made any aggressively hoppy or bitter beers, but they do push the envelope with their unusual adjuncts – adjuncts that add distinction, as opposed to merely stretching out the beer. Their flagship beer, at least in international competitions, has been their White Ale, a Belgian-style wheat beer, flavored during the brewing process with coriander, nutmeg, orange juice, and orange peel. This light golden beer has a complex floral nose with notes of apricot, sherry, and coriander. It is mild and refreshing in the mouth with a finish marked by pumpkin pie spices and lemon. A great drink for the summer.

Their Sweet Lacto-Stout harkens back to an older style. Beers made with the addition of milk sugars first came to light at the turn of the last century in England and continued in popularity until World War II, when their numbers began to dwindle in the face of competition from mass-produced styles. The lactose used in the beer was traditionally a by-product of cheese production, and the wisdom of the day held that this style of beer suited pregnant women because of its lower alcohol and sweeter flavor. I found Hitachino’s rendition to be rich but not overly sweet, with a creamy texture and malty flavors plus elements of walnut and black tea. I also found an earthy quality and a note of nori, but the latter might be an attempt on my part to see the beer as particularly Japanese.

An offering that is particularly Japanese, or at least Asian, is the Red Rice Ale. The first record of red rice being used to brew beer dates from the Tang Dynasty in China. While many rice beer producers now use modern, technologically developed strains, Hitachino has decided to stick with the original. This is a far cry from using rice as an adjunct to stretch out a beer; the flavor of red rice is integral to the product. The brewing process requires polishing and milling of the rice grains just as sake-making does, and red rice is not the sole sugar source; pilsner malt is added after the rice’s starch molecules have been converted into sugars. The beer is actually fermented with both ale and sake yeasts. This complicated process creates a higher alcohol beer with strawberries, raspberries, and a streak of white pepper on both the nose and palate. The sake influence is noticeable but not predominant, making for a very smooth beer with a touch of glycerol on the finish.

Their last beer is probably the most recognizable to American drinkers, a traditional German Weizen, or wheat, beer. It’s medium-bodied in the mouth, with banana, clove, and a touch of apple aromas, as well as a bready, yeasty note on the finish. A brother to the White Ale and, like many wheat beers, great with a slice of lemon.

The Japanese are enthusiastic beer drinkers, and it’s exciting to see their zeal being matched by some diversity in beer production. Hitachino has taken a mix of styles and added their own spin to create some brews with distinctive personalities. The Kiuchi Brewery also continues to move forward with new things; they have planted a variety of grapes in anticipation of adding winemaking to their portfolio, alongside beer and sake. There’s every reason to expect some well-thought out, sincerely crafted wines, and I look forward to seeing their adorable owl label in my local wine shop.

 
Some of the Awards Bestowed on Hitachino Nest Beers:
Germany DLG Guarantee of Quality Contest:
HITACHINO NEST BEER WEIZEN - Gold Medal
HITACHINO NEST BEER AMBER ALE - Silver Medal
ABT Competition in England:
HITACHINO NEST BEER WEIZEN - Gold Medal

U. S. World Beer Cup in New York:
HITACHINO NEST BEER WHITE ALE - Gold Medal

Japan Beer Cup:
HITACHINO NEST BEER WHITE ALE - Gold Medal
HITACHINO NEST BEER AMBER ALE - Gold Medal
HITACHINO NEST BEER XH - Gold Medal

 

 

Contact Information
Learn more about the Kiuchi Brewery and Hitachino Nest Beers on their website: http://www.kodawari.cc/engpage/engtop.htm. Their beers are imported into the U.S. by B.United International: http://www.bunitedint.com/; contact them to find local distributors and retailers.

 

 
 



 Published: May 2004
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