It’s always good to get beyond the boring old pale lagers that most folks drink and find beers that can really challenge people’s perception of what beer is. No doubt when most people think of Japanese beer they think of Asahi, Kirin and probably Sapporo. Sadly though, the versions of these beers sitting in your local bottleshop are not even made in Japan. Asahi is brewed in Thailand, Kirin is brewed by Lion Nathan and Sapporo is now brewed under license by Coopers. The exception being you can sometimes find the real versions of these on tap in some Japanese restaurants.
But come on peeps, let’s think outside the box! For something that really screams “Japan!”, you can’t go past Hitachino Nest. Hitachino Nest is the beer label for Kiuchi Sake Brewery from Ibaraki prefecture located a little south of the main areas hit by the tragic earthquake that hit March earlier this year. (There are some amazing pictures of the damage to the brewery and the neighbourhood on their website). A brewery that makes sake, shochu and beer; these guys have their hands full. Taking the wonderful approach of using local ingredients and traditional methods to create something with a true Japanese character, the Red Rice Ale is a great place to get your preconceptions of Japanese beer turned on their head.
You may or may not have seen red rice before; usually used in ceremonial dishes, it is rice fermented with a red mould giving it its colour. This rice is added to the beer mash which then spends some time in sake casks – really bringing out a flavour unlike any other beer. Oddly, one of the initial aromas that jumps out is that of black olives but it makes way for some cherry, strawberry and hints of sake phenols with very mild bitterness. And the 7% alcohol is very well hidden.
Not really a beer for sushi or fish dishes, I think you’ll find the Red Rice Ale goes quite well with pickled vegetables and tsukemono. So, next time you’re looking for some real Japanese beer remember there is more out there than just crisp dry lagers.