Nest Hitachino XH (Hong Kong & China)

October 2, 2012

Have you ever over-indulged your palate on one thing for so long that you’ve got to put it on a time-out? Even with beer’s diversity of style, the two most prevalent flavor components — malt and hops — can begin to fatigue even the most fervent appreciator of ale and lager.

Beer festivals and dinners and parties and tastings… running a specialty beer shop… I’ve got malted grain oozing out of my pores. In my dreams, a pastiche of Bugs Bunny-an/Carl Jung-ian nightmare landscape unfolds where Brobdingnagian animated neon hop cones march to a “Fee-fi-fo-fum!” cadence before they trample my noggin into the earth.
And I’m about to drive to New Orleans to partake in an enthusiast’s bottle sharing party being hosted at NOLA Brewing; nothing but rarities and home brew. Then it’s off to my happy place, The Avenue Pub on St. Charles for awesome food and a Belgian bottle collection of Flemish sours and true Gueuze lambics to make any lover of good beer weep with joy.

Enough! I’ve been spoiled by good people and good beer and, now, it’s taking its toll. I look over the 200-plus bottles in my display cooler… and I can’t decide what I want. Palate fatigue is a real condition humans can come down with, and brother do I have it bad right now.

The thing is is that I absolutely love what I do. What is needed now is a flavorful diversion. I need something exciting and new to wake my tastebuds back up. Belgian ale made in Japan and aged in sake casks, anyone?

Looking at Europeans’ penchant for barrel-aging their beer, it made sense to Kiuchi Brewery — makers of the iconic Nest Hitachino series — to do the same but Asian. Because sake has such an involved brewing process and can be made 15 different ways, aging beer in sake casks imparts a completely new universe of flavors to beer. Compound that with the myriad of beer styles and sake cask aging sounds more and more perfect as a vehicle to come up with almost countless new flavor combinations.

In the case of their XH, or “X-tra High,” it is currently supposed to be an 8% abv Belgian-style brown ale. The bottles I have right now are listing 7% and the label is different than those on the Kiuchi website. Hmm… must have accidentally gotten some age-worthy bottles by happy accident. My copies of this beer pour a tall head that recedes slowly into a big-bubble tan cap atop the orange-brown nectar below. The bready, caramel and dried fruit scents of Belgian brown mingle with the grapey, chestnutty notes of sake. Undeniably big Belgian flavors — yeast, wheat bread, dried cherry — get tempered by the polished rice smoothness and apple-banana hits.

Thoroughly unique and just what this tired old mouth needed. Arigato, Kiuchi-san!