Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kiuchi Brewery - Hitachino Nest Beer: XH

With winter bringing it's cold, blustery winds and blankets of snow (and ice, and slush), I start to reach for "warming" beers. Many of these beers will be spiced with flavors of the holiday season: nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, etc. or barrel-aged in whiskey, bourbon or wine barrels. With my distaste for over spicing in beer (ie. my dislike of pumpkin beers), I definitely reach for barrel-aged products. The Kiuchi Brewery, makers of the Hitachino line of beers, easily grabbed my attention with their Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Hitachino Nest Extra High (XH). This is the only beer that I have seen where the brewmaster has matured an ale in distilled sake barrels. Instantly, my mind began thinking about the taste possibilities; I needed to try this beer.
This beer pours a beautiful, dark shade of burgundy that produced a one-finger head. I expected ample head retention for this Belgian ale, but the head subsided much quicker than I would had anticipated. Within the body of the beer, many tiny particulates (yeast) were moving with the flow of the beer. These particulates created a less than desirable clarity for the style.
During my first sniffs, the aroma was very one-dimensional: malt sweetness. Due to the one dimensionality, I was a little perplexed because I was expecting floral notes from the sake and oak and vanilla from the barrel. I decided to let the beer for 10-12 minutes allowing it to warm, hopefully opening new aromatics. As anticipated, I opened a pandora's beer. The traditional smells of the Dark Belgian Ale, dark fruits: raisins and prunes, came to the forefront. Nestled within these fragrances, English hops presented themselves adding a pleasant, dry bitterness to balance the sweetness. Finally, the oak and vanilla were present, but still not at the level I anticipated.
The tasting parallels the aroma very closely. The malty sweetness bursts instantly upon contact with the palate. This sweetness quickly relinquishes its hold on the taste profile and oak, vanilla and hop character make their presence near the back of the palate creating a dry finish. The aftertaste was the only place that I was able to detect sake within the tasting. A faint, floral bouquet washed over the palate, but didn't linger long enough for true enjoyment.
This Nest Beer, a medium-bodied ale with a slight chewiness, contained a moderate level of carbonation which I believe create the initial burst of flavor within the taste. At the lower end of the alcohol level spectrum for Belgian Dark Strong Ales, Kiuchi Brewery has created a "session" ale within this style category. This beer is full of subtle complexity, but I was hoping for the sake component to play a more prominent role because I don't think I will see an aged product akin to the XH ale in the very near future.



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