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Flying the Nest: Going beyond Hitachino White

Crack open a six-bottle crash course in Japanese beer.
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Most people can recall the first time they tried Hitachino Nest White Ale. You remember the iconic cartoon owl, the colorful label… not to mention the delicious beer inside. It’s a relatively easy-to-find, easy-to-drink brew, which is why it’s an introductory beer for many new craft drinkers.

But Kiuchi Brewing’s Hitachino Nest rainbow extends well beyond the white ale to beers such as a citrus-flavored IPA, a Belgian strong ale brewed with red rice, and even a brown ale aged in shochu casks. My suggestion: Enlist a good friendlucky them!and make your own sixer of Hitachino Nest beers. It’s a great crash course in the diversity and complexity of Japanese beers, and one that’s sure to be as memorable as that first sip of Hitachino white.

Before you begin: Bear in mind (beer in mind?) that Kiuchi’s brews won’t necessarily deliver what American palates might expect, even when you read “IPA” on the label. Some are true-to-style, including an exemplary espresso stout, while others… aren’t. I and the other editors here drink a lot of beer, as you’d expect, so it’s not often that a style stumps us. But as you’ll read in the notes below, the Commemorative Ale 2014 had us scratching our heads.

Ultimately, tasting through these six beers is a great way to dip your toe into Japan’s diverse craft beer spectrum. Hitachino Nest White may remain your favorite of the bunch, but it’s worth exploring the rest of the flock.

Hitachino Nest White Ale
Ah yes, the O.G. Simultaneously soft yet flavorful, this is an ultimate witbier you don’t have to think too hard about. A small hint of warming spice floats under citrus crispness. Effortlessly tasty and drinkable at 5.5%.

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale
This 7% Belgian-inspired ale is a fantastic foil to Japanese rice lagers. Those tend to be floral and slightly sweet, but this funky, prickly beer is bold and full. We  were divided on it: Some of us enjoyed a bit of grainy sharpness from the red rice, whereas others found something about Belgian ripeness to be overbearing. Try this with a few friends and poll the group.

Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale 2014
This beer was the lineup’s head-scratcher. Kiuchi describes this yearly release as full of “sweet wheat flavor,” with “orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla beans.” To us, this tasted like a confused dunkel with a strong, lingering heat and a velvety mouthfeel. We detected very little vanilla, though cinnamon came through. We didn’t not enjoy this warming, 8% sipper, but it wasn’t clear to us what Kiuchi was aiming for here.

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
My favorite beer of the sixer, this classic espresso stout is a delight for coffee fanatics like myself. Dark, roasty espresso aromas wafted out of the glass as I brought it to my nose, but there’s even more complexity on the sip. Cocoa powder, a bit of ash (reminiscent of a cigar) and perfect, perfect espresso bitterness all wrap up cleanly with a dry, classic stout finish. Tons of flavor in a beer that never goes chewy; truly exemplary.

Hitachino Nest XH
This wood-aged Belgian strong ale exemplifies a distinctly Japanese take on the style. The beer matures in sake (Japanese rice wine) barrels before being transferred for final aging in shochu (a distilled Japanese spirit, in this case distilled from sake) barrels. Many Japanese breweries began as sake distilleries, so there’s a history of interplay between the two. We found this beer surprisingly bright for a wood-aged Belgian, with a bit of indistinguishable fruit and some vegetal woodiness.

Hitachino Nest Dai Dai IPA
Brewed with mandarin oranges, this IPA actually tastes more like a hoppy fruit beer. It’s a surprise to American palates, which might expect a more aggressive citrus hop flavor. In this case, hops work to elevate the orange flavors, then recede into the background. It’s a fun beer that’s easy to knock back at 6.2%.

 

Author
Kate Bernot is DRAFT’s beer editor. Reach her at kate.bernot[at]draftmag.com.

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