Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Quality of Life Improvement 8: Hitachino Nest Beer

Arne Jacobsen, architect and one of the godfathers of Danish-Modernism, was asked about the formation of his philosophy of æsthetics.

"A pastry usually tastes better if it looks nice," he said. "A cream pastry, now that looks nice—in fact, there is nothing I mind as long as it looks nice."

We at The Hawaiian Sybarite live by these sage words, and we fall hard for beautifully-designed packaging. Rarely is it that we see packaging as nice looking as the Hitachino Nest line of beers. We were entirely ready to enjoy Hitachino Nest solely for the novelty of its packaging, but were surprised by the quality of its contents. This is excellent beer.

Kiuchi Brewery (木内酒造) of Naka, Japan, began brewing Hitachino Nest Beer in 1996. Kiuchi's history stretches back to 1823, when the company was founded to produce sake and shōchū (焼酎). In the 1990s, Kiuchi struck upon the rather clever idea of using the techniques and implements—and even ingredients—for the manufacture of sake and shōchū in the brewing of beer, thus hatching Hitachino Nest Beer.

The Hitachino Nest Beers are top-fermented ales and, at the time of writing, are brewed in no less than 13 varieties: Amber Ale, Espresso Stout, Ginger Ale (and another version that Kiuchi curiously refers to as "Real Ginger Ale"), Japanese Classic Ale, New Year Celebration Ale, Pale Ale, Red Rice Ale, Sweet Stout, Weizen, White Ale, and XH, a Belgian Strong Ale that matures for three months in shōchū casks.

Hitachino Nest's White Ale is a Belgian-style witbier, surprisingly creamy and deeply spicy. Kiuchi has strongly-spiced theier White Ale with clove and coriander, and, in the tradition of Belgian witibers, there are strong suggestions of citrus. The clove lingers after you've enjoyed the last of this beer, and there's little sweetness to it, which makes it an ideal pairing with Japanese food.

New Year Celebration Ale seems to us at The Hawaiian Sybarite to be an obvious descendant of the Scandinavian breweries' tradition of releasing special Christmas- and New Year's-beers. Like its Nordic antecedents, Hitachino Nest's Celebration Ale is sweeter and spicier than traditional beers, with aromas originally drawn from Gløgg, the season's mulled red wine.

Kiuchi's Celebration Ale has all the requisite ingredients in well-crafted harmony: cinnamon, citrus, plenty of coriander, nutmeg and vanilla. The ale itself is eminently enjoyable, but we encourage you to take note of the bottle and its labeling; we think that it's the most arresting packaging we've encountered, with a representation of Fuji-san reminiscent of Hokusai and our favorite owl friend front-and-center flying dangerously close to cute overload territory but ultimately winging away from the precipice.

The Red Rice Ale pours guava-hued with a head both tinted and scented strawberry, courtesy of this beer's eponymous ingredient. It is surprisingly sweet and also surprisingly sake-like, owing its fermentation by sake-yeast and its 7% alcohol-by-volume content—give us the keys to your car now and let Kiuchi Brewery—their owl—take you on a journey.

The Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale is rumored to be the last Red Rice beer in the world, and if you like your beer boozy, exotic, fruity, malty and subtly-complex, drink up. After all, the owl always was the wisest of all birds.

Hitachino Nest Beers are available at Whole Foods Market, 4211 Waialae Avenue, Honolulu Hawai‘i, 96816-5340, (808) 738-0820.

For additional stockists, consult Kiuchi Brewery or, in the United States, B. United International Inc.

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