From the Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki prefecture, Japan, I have a bottle of the Hitachino Nest Beer XH. This is a strong ale that they have matured in shochu (distilled sake) casks. These oak casks have imparted not only the rich character of this Japanese rice liquor but also passed on the little critters that were living in the wood. Because of this process XH is quite a complex beer.
The Nest XH pours an opal tawny (or burnt orange) shade that begs you just to look. Its head, the color of peach, is thick, creamy, and persistent. The nose is simply incredible. The first thing that stands out is the notable effect of Brettanomyces, no doubt prior residents of the wood this beer was aged in. The Brett gives it an old ale aroma, dry and musty, strongly reminiscent of Orval, the great Trappist ale. I detect some strange fruit, almost like raspberries but not quite. There is just a hint of maltiness that comes through as a somewhat bready caramel aroma. Almost smells like a gueuze, almost like a dubbel, almost like a barleywine. Regular readers should know I’m an aroma fiend, and this beer really satisfies.
Now to let it in. As XH hits the tip of the tongue it is striking how mild and how mellow the flavor is. I can hardly taste anything until it rolls through the middle of my mouth with a musty, somewhat alcoholic punch. The character of the shochu comes out in force, the strong character of sake complemented by plums and raspberries. As it moves back I can taste more of the malt: medium-done toast, caramel, husk, and perhaps some molasses. It is at first apparently dry, but soon develops a caramel sweetness that lingers and balances the stronger flavors quite well. The body is full and creamy, perhaps even a little too much, as it is approaching cloying.
The look and nose of this beer is simply divine so it is hard for the taste to match up. Yet, the XH does a very good job keeping my interest with its complex flavor derived from aging in liquor-soaked, microbiologically fertile wood. Without a doubt a serious contender with the best offerings from Europe and North America. This one deserves the rare second thumb up, which, as my brother points out, requires that you put down your beer.
Hitachino Nest Beer XH