Here we are. Another week. Another (delicious) beer. This week, it’s Hitachino Nest Beer XH (Extra High) – a strong ale aged in sake casks.Truth is, I’ve been drinking my weight (keep in mind, I’ve lost a fair amount of weight of late, so this is less beer than it might otherwise be) in Kern River Pumpkin and Beer Valley Fresh Hop Black Flag. I’d review these, but Stan says I have to review this Hitachino. [info]
Not a master in geography
Those of you that don’t know, and why would you, Stan is the puppet master of the site you have stumbled on to, this tasteterminal.com. He’s a soon to be an Internet millionaire (nay, Billionaire), possessor of world’s worst facial hair, and … wait for it … Asian. Hmm, I smell a hometown favorite.
So, here we are, me strong armed into drinking a craft beer from Japan. I’ve had Hitachino’s White Ale, and it’s damn good. But come on, beer from Japan, shipped (and I am not an expert in geography) a million miles, and aged in sake casks. Should I really review this as my Drink This? Let me take a si- HOLY LORD is that good.
Never mind the above. Stan, I am sorry for the horrible comments (though I do not take any of them back, mind you). Good Mexican space program is this one delicious beer. Thanks you for forcing me to taste this. In fairness to my skeptical side, I am not sure if this tastes the way it should. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t taste great.
So, let’s go through it. Let’s talk my impressions, and then we can do some research, and find out if I’m right. Well, I know I’m right, but do I see things the way the “experts” see it? Skip ahead. Seriously, skip ahead. What the hell do I know? What do you know? You’re still reading? Ha! The joke is on you, sucker.
The beer pours a hazy brown. This m-effer (technical term is cloudy). Is this a bottle conditioned beer? No cork, suggests to me that it MIGHT be bottles conditioned, but I’m not thinking much in the way of the traditional Belgian style bottle conditioning. Not much head on it. Some bubbles to be sure, but much smoother and not at all effervescent. Darn, I probably should have poured a bit slower to get a clearer first impression. It looks like an Oud Bruin.
Let’s pop the schnoz in the snifter and see what we—woah, kinda pungent. Nice nose, but a little bit of funk. There’s a lactic smell here. Are you sure this is not a Flanders Brown? I look again at the bottle. Nope, strong ale aged in Shochu casks. Shochu is a distilled sake. What the hell is sake, anyway? It’s distilled rice wine, right? Isn’t what we’re partly trying to do as craft beer champions, castigate those that use rice in beer. I guess since it’s a few steps removed from rice IN the beer, we’re in the clear. Still, an interesting side note. Other than that, nothing on the label about this being a sour. I see no mention of Pediococcus, Brettanomyces or Lactobaccilus. But, yet, I do smell something funky. I didn’t just work out — it’s not my own funk (for a change). Let me shower and change clothes. Wait here.
Woah, doctor. Coming back, there is no change. Well, some change, as I smell a tad more Dove Body Soap (my wife likes it, or so I tell people).
Yep, tastes like a Flanders brown—a damn good one. Not over done; not over funked. Just smooth. The sour rises on the sides — more of an accent than a punch in the face. You still get the malt here. There’s a slight roast coming through. And, I’ll be damned, a really nice kiss of hops. They linger too. I’d add that the hops really work, followed by the sour, and then if you let it sit on the pallet, you’re back with the hops. Man, this is one complex ass beer. Damn you, Stan. I really dig the hell out of this. I’d buy more of this, except for the fact that it is the first beer I have now gotten for free. If I buy one, I lose. But you, fair reader, should go out and buy one.
Alright, now here’s the moment of truth. Is what I tasted on this beer what I should taste. Is this meant to be a soured beer? Or, is this the rare beer soured, by age, barrels or contamination that works as a sour despite the fact that said souring is the result of an egregious mistake at the brewery? Let’s find out.
For those of you that skipped down, HI!
Alright, so Hitachino’s site calls this a Strong Belgian Brown. So, I had the brown part right. Belgian, too. Okay, now I’m seeing the yeast being a big part of the presentation. So far; so good.
What about this funk, this tartness that comes through in flavor and aroma? Well, in reading through reviews on Rate Beer and Beer Advocate, I have come to the conclusion that what I taste is what everyone else gets. So, we have ourselves a sour beer. Perhaps not intentionally soured, but soured, apparently, across the board. As the site makes no mention of this, I am left with one explanation – the casks.
Sake casks are generally made of wood. Wood is very difficult to keep clean, and it’s tremendously porous and prone to infection from Brettanomyces, etc. This beer, aging for three years in these casks, it must have picked up this sour character. And, I’m glad it did.
[quote align=right]My only comment here, possible correction, is what to call this beer style. Yes, it’s a Belgian Brown, as they say. I feel it has the flavor and character of an Oud Bruin. But, it’s been aged in wood. Not to get to nerdy, but Flanders Reds aged in wood; Browns in stainless steel. Color wise they can be very similar. I find this more in line, flavor wise, with typical Flanders Browns than Reds. If you disagree, let me know. I love reading boring emails.
Looks like I was pretty spot on with my analysis. Who’s a genius? Steve Jobs.
Seriously, I highly recommend this. It’s a very layered beer, and if one wants to introduce a friend to sour beers, this would be a great intro. Drink strong …