An Interview with Toshiyuki Kiuchi, of Hitachino Nest Beers
By Jim Clarke

Jim Clarke: After so many years as a sake brewery, what made you decide to move into beer brewing as well?

Toshiyuki Kiuchi: Traditionally, sake is brewed in winter – from October to March. Cold weather is just perfect for the cold fermentation needed in the sake brewing process. This created the system of the “toji” who is the brewmaster during the winter and returns to farm work during the summer. This tradition has existed in Japanese sake culture for more than 150 years. Our brewery thought up a new idea – brewing beer instead of farming during the summer; however, we have been busy for beer and sake brewing, since we brew beer on a year-round basis.

JC: What are the main differences between beer-brewing and sake-making?

TK: The big difference is in the system of fermentation. With beer, the first stage in the brewing process is saccharification, where enzymes change starch to sugar. After this stage, the fermentation process begins. In the case of sake brewing, the fermentation process begins simultaneously with the saccharification process when steamed rice, enzymes, yeast, and water combine together. This is known as “multiple parallel fermentation.” Soy sauce and Miso paste are also fermented in this manner.

JC: Your range of beers show a real awareness of several different brewing traditions – Japanese, German, Belgian, English…What made you interested in reviving some of the older styles, like your Red Rice Ale and the Sweet Lacto-Stout?

TK: We tried to find a Japanese favorite flavor of stout. This is a flavor slightly sweeter and more drinkable than the typical stout. Sweet Lacto-Stout is the result. Red Rice Ale is a very unique beer which no one can imitate. We use a sake-brewing technique for brewing this beer (using sake yeast) .

JC: Do you have a certain palate in mind when you make your beers – Japanese, American, or otherwise?

TK: I would say it’s an international palate. We aim to make unique products and flavors which reflect Japanese traditions, such as our red rice ale, but we also have an appreciation for the international history of beer. We are always seeking ways to innovate upon this history.

JC: I understand Kiuchi brewery is also beginning to take up winemaking. How is that proceeding?

TK: In Japan, there are some interesting fruits for making wines. We make Yuzu wine. Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit which has some health benefits. This wine goes well with Japanese foods. This is currently a very successful product in the Japanese market. Unfortunately, you may have to wait another 30 years before we have grape wines on the market! Indeed, our wine can not reach the level of the highest quality Western wines in the near future.

High quality beers require excellent technique and water – more than ingredients. In contrast, good quality wines depend on excellent grapes. We just planted grapes and it will take many seasons before they are mature enough to be used for making an outstanding wine.

JC: On your website ( you recommend a number of Japanese foods that go well with your White Ale and Weizen beers. What food do you recommend – Japanese or otherwise to go with the Red Rice Ale and The Lacto-Stout?

TK: With Sweet Lactose Stout I would recommend a corned beef sandwich, a bitter chocolate sauce soufflé, or vanilla ice cream! This is a very good dessert beer. With Red Rice Ale I would recommend curry rice with peas or a shrimp-based dish.

JC: So if I have a night out and drink too many Nest beers, what’s the Japanese answer to cure my hangover?

TK: Drink Japanese green tea with Umeboshi - a pickled plum – very sour and salty. Or Drink more Nest beers the next day as well!!


 Published: May 2004