In 1823, Kiuchi Gihei, headman of the small Japanese village of Kounosu, decided to put his excess rice supply to some good use and started brewing sake. The Kiuchi Brewery has thrived ever since, and in 1996 the Sake pros began producing ales under the name "Hitachino Nest Beer". Since then, the combination of award-winning beers, psychedelic font and an iconic cartoon owl have made these beers a hit in the States. Here we try a few of from their diverse and intriguing lineup.
Unfortunately Ibaraki prefecture, where Kiuchi is located, was hard hit by this year's earthquake and tsunami, but they are now brewing again after bottling 50,000 liters of water from their tanks for locals coping with the natural disaster. So if tasting great isn't reason enough to buy some Hitachino Nest Beer, do it to help support a brewery that could use some right now.
This beer is pale yellow and very hazy. The nose is full of sweet clove, coriander, and orange citrus. On the tongue we detect the familiar wit beer flavors of orange and coriander, along with a hint of bubblegum. A refreshing beer for warm days or hot summer nights.
Light marigold and glowing, the Hitachino Weizen is surprisingly clear for a wheat beer and is perfumed with sweet tangerine and a trail of sour apple. On the palate it's tart upfront, spiced in the middle, and rounds into a smooth, honey-sweet finish. Pleasant and well crafted, a Japanese weizen to make the Germans look twice.
We're happy to see Kiuchi sticking to their guns and throwing some rice in their beers! This hazy, coppery-pink ale carries a lot of sweetness on the nose, both malty and fruity, giving us a strange craving for some strawberry shortcake. The taste is sweet and crisp, with a red berry flavor that matches well with the light body, and hides the relatively high alcohol percentage. Did someone say dessert beer?
The Ginger Brew has a hazy, mahogany shade, with red tones and a good amount of suspended yeast. Scent-wise there's an interesting combination of peat smoke, tobacco, and gingersnap. The taste is smoky and bitter to start, with a hint of ginger, and the finish surprises us with a flash of caramel popcorn! In the words of one taster: "this beer is crazy on the tongue."
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