Hitachino Nest beer from Ibaraki Prefecture distinguishes itself from other Japanese microbrews in that it is arguably the most famous overseas. Indeed, about half of their production is exported, mostly to the United States, where beer enthusiasts with a thirst for something different pay about $3 retail for a small bottle, an unusually high price in a country where excellent microbrews go for about $8 for a six-pack.
The beer is brewed by the Kiuchi Shuzo, a family-owned brewery founded in 1823, that later became known for its excellent quality Kikusakari sake brand. While the brewery complex appears straight out of the 19th century, Kiuchi management is definitely in the 21st century mold, taking new and progressive approaches to connect directly with their customers.
While most old-line sake brewers would never even consider making beer, Kiuchi went beyond the typical microbrewery with the addition of a complete brew-on-premises (BOP) system for brewing very small batches of beer. Anyone can go to the brewery and, with the help of the brewing staff, make up a batch of their own beer, complete with a custom-designed label.
The BOP operation has proven particularly popular with couples producing a special commemorative brew to serve at their wedding party.
Since their first beer in 1996, Hitachino Nest has come out with quite an interesting range of beers, ranging from a non-alcoholic Pale Ale to a fantastic India Pale Ale to an unusual brew made with heirloom strain of red rice.
Unfortunately, this has at times been at the expense of consistency, with some absolute hits along with a few misses. This seems to be changing with the hiring last November of a new brewer, Daniel Feldman of Canada, who has been tweaking existing recipes while working on new ones.
On a visit in February, there was a noticeable improvement in the beers I tasted, with most being brighter and more focused in terms of flavor.
The small tasting room bar at the brewery is the best place to sample the wide range of Hitachino Nest beers. Recommended are the Amber Ale, the rich 8% alcohol XH ale, and the White Ale, a refreshing and aromatic brew based loosely on the famous Belgian white style. Indeed, there is a beer for everyone at Hitachino Nest.
Hitachino Nest Beer
Naka City, Ibaraki
Tel: (029) 298-0105
Hours: Usually open during the daytime. Please phone ahead to confirm hours of operation.
From Ueno Station in Tokyo, take the Joban Line Super Hitachi Express train to Mito Station (about 75 minutes), then change to the Suigun Line toward Koriyama for six stops to Hitachi Kounosu Station (about 20 minutes). Total fare (including express charge) is ¥2,210.
The Kiuchi Brewery is about five minutes from the station.
To purchase Hitachino Nest beer for home delivery, go to: http://kodawari.cc/kodawari-shop/catalog/ (Japanese only)