Friday, April 29, 2011

Quaff Review #12: Hitachino Nest JCA

At one time, I figured that by now I'd be in Japan already. Back during my last years of university, when the Great Recession was just an unresolved future possibility, I was after a post as an Assistant Language Teacher in the JET Programme, a Japanese government initiative that brings native English speakers into Japanese classrooms. I got rejected twice; both times they liked my essay, and both times the interview did not go nearly so well. Still, while I was in Toronto it was simple to move on.

Here in Vancouver, there are rather more reminders of that possible path I didn't take. One of them I found in, of all places, a beer and wine store: a bottle of Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale - from "hitachino," which not only does not seem to mean "owl" but does not even appear in my Japanese dictionary, and "nest," meaning... well, nest. The front label is easily understandable; it's the back that's swimming in hiragana. It's one of several beers produced by the Kiuchi Brewery in Naka, Ibaraki - close enough to Fukushima Prefecture that the company's English website has front-and-center assurances that no radioactivity was detected in their products.

One reason I was interested in this, aside from the Japanese connection, was that this is a historical beer - hence the name Japanese Classic Ale. According to the back label, this is a modern reconstruction of the first kind of Japanese beer, brewed during the Edo period, which for those of you who fell asleep in Japanese History class lasted from 1603 to 1868. Japanese Classic Ale is aged in cedar casks, though there's no mention of how long, in a technique borrowed from the old English IPA method.

So how's it taste? Like nothing I've ever had before - not even Route des épices, that Québecois beer with peppercorns in it. Kiuchi's website describes it as having "a unique note of cedar and [a] complex spicy yet mild aroma," and it did start out tasting spicy when I took my first sip, and pleasantly spicy at that. Beyond that there was another sensation in it, something that took me a while to pin down - it wasn't fizzy, more like little bubbles full of strange flavor coursing over my tongue.

Salt. Japanese Classic Ale tasted salty. It may just be in my mind; the only ingredients attested on the label are water, malt, hops, and yeast, and it took me a couple of minutes just to identify the taste. The salty aftertaste lingered for a while afterward, too - which is where Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale loses points with me. Generally speaking, I'm not a fan of aftertastes.

The bottle I picked up contained 330 mL with 7.5% alc./vol. Kiuchi's website says that it's available in Japan and the United States, but this isn't completely accurate; I found my bottle at Firefly Fine Wines and Ales in Vancouver, and I was far from the only one to try it out, it seems.


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