And now for something completely different. Last week Port Street Beer House took delivery of a small number of cases of beer from the Kiuchi brewery based in Ibaraki-Ken, Japan. Craft beer from the USA? Check. Classic beers from Belgium and elsewhere in mainland Europe? Check. Amazing small-brewery beers from the UK? Double-check. But craft beer from Japan?
Beers from Japan are making an inroad into the UK via importers in Europe, Italy in particular. Port Street Beer House has heralded Hitachino Nest's arrival in Manchester by being the first establishment to stock it, in particular the Weizen, Espresso Stout, Sweet Stout, Amber Ale and the Red Rice Ale.
If the first word that comes to mind is ‘sake' when thinking of Japanese breweries, you're on the right track. Hitachino Nest is the main beer brand from the Kiuchi brewery, but they only started brewing beer in 1996. Over 150 years prior to that, the brewery was established by Kiuchi Gihei to brew sake from the warehouse stocks of rice collected from farmers as land tax on behalf of the dominant Mito Togugawa family in that region. After the end of the Second World War, when demand for sake increased, the Kiuchi brewery, by then under the leadership of Mikio Kiuchi, bucked the trend and remained true to quality and craftsmanship, resisting the temptation to mass-produce.
So, Red Rice Ale. Not as unusual as it sounds, rice is a common starch adjunct used in brewing beer, most famously (infamously?) used in Anheuser Busch's Budweiser pale ale. Adjuncts are used for a number of reasons, from cost saving measures (rice is cheaper than barley) to introducing taste, body and mouthfeel features. The addition of red rice is additionally interesting as traditionally it is regarded as ‘weedy', in other words a variety that produces fewer grains per plant than cultivated rice, and is considered a weed or a pest that grows despite, rather than because of, cultivation.
That the red rice starch adjunct is considered a weed becomes completely irrelevant when you consider the immensely positive impact of it's addition to the brew of this amber ale. With a pinkish pale colour and impressive soapy-white head, a light sweetness is at the heart of Red Rice Ale, with a fruity rice aroma on the nose reminiscent of rose water, and a subtle strawberry-laced experience throughout. I never thought I'd say this as something positive, but a waxy mouthfeel lends a distinctively pleasant note to the drinking experience. None of the 7.0% ABV strength is evident (except when I walk from the bar to a nearby table to write this review), and the beer is a very easy drinking experience.
Hitachino Nest has been established in the USA for a decade or so now, and rightly so. With its distinctive Owl logo, quality top-fermented beers and innovative techniques, it's only a matter of time until they're established over here too. Until then, get yourself down to Port Street, and see for yourself. You won't be disappointed.
- Brewer: Hitachino Nest
- Brew: Red Rice Ale
- Style: Amber Ale
- ABV: 7.0%