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.