Hitachino Nest White Ale: The Power of Food Pairing

Under the right circumstances, the flavor of a beer you consider ordinary will strike you as extraordinary.  Most recently, this happened to me with Hitachino Nest White Ale, a 5% ABV ale brewed by Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki-ken Naka-gun, Japan.

This beer is a subtle beast, with mild flavors of orange peel, coriander and white pepper playing on top of a gently bready backbone.  I know had tasted this beer a while ago, because I remember purchasing it and it’s no longer in my cellar, but I can’t for the life of me remember drinking it.  I guess I found it totally forgettable, but that changed on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

I was in L.A. for business, and my boss was kind enough to treat me to a wonderful dinner at a top-notch Japanese restaurant.  As always, I asked what beers they had, and besides the Bud, Miller and Coors of Japan – Asahi, Sopporo, and Kirin – they offered Hitachino Nest White Ale. I went for the wild card, and was surprised when I recognized the hello-kitty-esque owl on the label.

I was then amazed by how wonderfully the beer paired with the sushi, soft shell crab and Kobe beef dishes that would follow.  The orange peel was just acidic enough to gently cleanse my palate, and the coriander and pepper complimented everything I tasted, adding a subtle depth to the meal that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.  It was brilliant.

Since that evening, I’ve been craving Hitachino Nest White Ale, so on Friday night I picked up a bomber of the stuff.  It sat in the fridge until last night, when I slowly savored it during the Super Bowl.  That’s right, no Sam Adams or Brooklyn Brewery beers for me – I went Japanese!

Last night it was paired with hummus, olives, tabboule salad and guacamole, creating perhaps the most metrosexual Super Bowl menu ever.  While these items didn’t bring out the gentle magic of this wonderful beer, my flavor memory from that night in L.A. brought me right back to that moment of discovery, which made me desperately crave a dragon roll.

I typically only pair my beer with the proper glassware, not food.  And while I haven’t had the energy to get into food pairing as obsessively as I have gotten into beer, my experience with Hitachino Nest underscored for me what a beer can do for a meal, and what the proper food pairing can do to help you discover the more subtle wonders of the brewer’s art.

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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle, review

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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27 Comments on “Hitachino Nest White Ale: The Power of Food Pairing”

  1. DanR
    February 6, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    Their Red Rice ale pairs wonderfully with food as well, balances well with bold food, it is much more fruity that the white, a bit tart/sour, musty, and delicious. One of my favorite beers, but pricey at about $5 for a 12oz bottle.

    • February 6, 2012 at 11:19 am #

      I’ll keep an eye out for the little bottles – I only saw the White Ale bomber at my local bottle shop. I’ll have to look for other varieties of Hitochino when I’m in other stores.

    • February 6, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      +1 on the Red Rice Ale. Fantastic beer.

      • February 6, 2012 at 11:23 am #

        Aw, crap – now I gotta go looking for it!!!!

  2. Don
    February 6, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    I’ve had this beer before too, and if your palate is clean when you have your first sip, it is a wonderful, fruity and peppery treat. You are correct however that it is a subtle flavor, so if you drank it in between your usual 3 course meal of stouts and barrel aged imperial ales, I could see how it would get lost.

    I can also see where this beer would be fantastic with sushi, especially something that used sirachi or wasabi drizzle on top, where the heat from the sushi would play nicely with the flavors in the beer. Now I want a Dragon Roll!

    • February 6, 2012 at 11:21 am #

      Yeah, I made you hungry and then you made me hungry right back – I want a dragon roll now, too!

      Did I send that beer to you? It would explain why I don’t remember actually drinking it…

      • Don
        February 6, 2012 at 11:54 am #

        No, you never send me beer.

        • February 6, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

          I did once or twice, and it was around the time that bottle disappeared.

        • Don
          February 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

          You have no one to blame but yourself for the disappearance of that bottle, unless your wife drank it?

  3. February 6, 2012 at 11:24 am #

    I’m a fan of Hitochino and experiences like yours remind me of the emotional and experiential nature of beer drinking. Although we naturally want to quantify beers into objective rating systems to retain some sense of order in an exploding field, I have often had the experience of trying a beer with friends or on a great night out and just loving it only to come back to the beer a little later and be underwhelmed. I won’t undermine your food pairing argument but I do think that the emotional and social context of beer as well as the thrill of discovering, or rediscovering, beers heavily influence our reception of them. It may not make for straightforward reading to tell people “make sure you have six mid-thirty hipsters” or “be sure to have your best friend or wife to share this beer with” but sometimes those are serious mitigating circumstances that are hard to simply repeat on demand the next time you happen to have that beer around.

  4. February 6, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    Typo in the title….Hitachino, not Hitochino … hacks.

    • February 6, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      Thanks. I didn’t want to be the guy to do that twice in a row.

      . . . hacks.

      • February 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

        Fixed it…editors!

        • February 6, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

          I’ll send you my invoice.

  5. February 6, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Beer and food pairings can be really fun. I’m in the middle of planning a beer dinner with my friends, using Garret Oliver’s “The Brewmaster’s Table” as a guide. It’s also very fun to experiment with unlikely flavor combos.

    I think pairing certain beer styles with sashimi or nigiri sushi would be quite a challenge, more so than with the “Americanized” sushi rolls that throw a lot of ingredients together and get drowned in wasabi and soy sauce.

    • February 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

      I’ve started not using any soy sauce when I eat Japenese food, and have been taking it easy on the wasabi as well. I used to drown everything in the dreaded soy-wasabi slush. That’ll get you killed in Japan!

      • February 6, 2012 at 5:04 pm #

        I use a a bit of rice wine vinegar w/ just a tad of wasabi on my sushi and sashimi–it really livens up the dish when you’ve been running your mouth instead of eating, or when you buy that packaged sushi at the deli–commercial inari-zushi can be quite dry. (Of course my favorite is unagi-zushi and that doesn’t require anything else.) I also find that any Japanese beer (even the Budweisers of Japan) go well with sashimi, though I have yet to try Hitachino Nest.

        As for using soy sauce, that’s a matter of taste. My Japanese son-in-law (the other one, not the one who drinks craft beer), does some truly horrible things to “traditional American” foods like potato salad and spaghetti sauce and I’ve been told that the way he does them are standards in Japan. (I don’t like the Japanese version of mayonnaise either). So it might be a good idea if those sushi chefs not throw too many stones at us Yankee barbarians–LOL.

  6. February 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Totally agree with you Jim! Had this same beer at a sushi dinner a few months back and it was a superb pairing.

    • February 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

      It kills me that Hitachino isn’t available at the Japanese places near me – only the Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo – yuck!

      • Don
        February 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

        Same here, except Tsing Tao is also available. I typically have Sake when I go for sushi, just because there is no interesting beer available.

      • February 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

        Luckily, the place we went to was a BYOB, so beer selection was a non-issue. We also had that Rogue Morimoto Ale, Avery White Rascal, Ommegang Hennepin, and Duvel at this meal. They all paired well with sushi, so that should open your options a bit more. Why do I feel like we’ve had this discussion before???

    • February 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm #

      Some of the sushi joints here in Denver have started serving Great Divide Samurai, which is a lot better than Kirin, Sapporo, et. al.

      Baird Brewing is another good Japanese craft brewery, but I have yet to see their beers in restaurants.

  7. February 7, 2012 at 5:07 pm #

    Wait. Didn’t you just post something about how you hate cooking with beer almost as much as you hate pairing beer and food? I’m confused. Why do you hate America, Jim?

    • February 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      Hey, it’s 100% American to drink beer without food (or pants for that matter!).

      • February 7, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

        Agreed. Apparently, it’s also rather American to contradict oneself in a 24 hour period.

        • February 7, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

          I’m not sure about the contradiction thing, Zac. My Hitachino experience was one that opened my eyes to food pairings, which is something that I’d like to get into in the future, but so far have lacked the motivation to do. I don’t mention my lack of enthusiasm thus far for getting off my ass and actually pursuing pairings in this article, as I thought it’d muddy the waters. That said, what you read above isn’t out of line with the post I did today where I mention my predilection to drinking beer by itself. The two can coexist without contradiction.

          When I do contradict myself (and I’m fickle, so it happens) I try to point it out and own up to it. I think that’s decidedly un-American of me, at least if I was a politician.

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