Hitachino Nest, Saison Du Japon
Nest is best.
The roots of this week’s beer by Hitachino Nest date back to the early 1800s when Kiuchi Gihei opened a brewery in the city of Naka in the Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan. The brewery was initially established to make sake (which is brewed in a similar way to beer) in order to use up any remaining rice stocks collected from local farmers as part of a land tax.
Between the early 1940s and 1991, the Japanese economy experienced a record period of growth often referred to as the “Japanese Economic Miracle”. During this time the demand for sake grew (both domestically and internationally). Whilst this resulted in a profusion of new sake breweries, the Kiuchi Brewery, still family owned, continued to stand out and established a name for quality and craft in the sake industry.
This economic growth came to rather an abrupt end in the early 1990s and the decade that followed resulted in a massive socio-economic upheaval. One by-product resulting from this “lost decade” was a change in tax law surrounding the production of beer. These changes made it possible to start small, independent breweries in a country where beer had been dominated by just four big breweries. Following on from this deregulation, in 1994, the Kiuchi Brewery built a brewery from scratch and launched Hitachino Nest Beer in 1996.
Taking inspiration from Europe and the US, Hitachino Nest makes beers that sound pretty much identical to many western breweries. Their range includes a pale ale along with a white beer, amber ale, lager, IPA and a stout (amongst others). But all of these have a decidedly Japanese twist and often contain a distinct bow towards the brewery’s sake heritage.
Which brings us to this week’s beer, Saison du Japon. This cloudy and warm coloured beer has the sort of peppery funk from the yeast that we’d come to expect from a European Saison. Yet this sits alongside some decidedly Japanese hints of yuzu and citrus. There’s almost a sweetness to this beer that is attributed to their use of koji (a local malted rice and a vital ingredient in the production of sake). This reflects Hitachino Nest’s philosophy of introducing local malts and hops where possible and it is exactly this sort of touch that has made an award-winning name for them.
About the Owl
The distinctive owl logo originates from the Japanese village of Kounosu where the beers are brewed. In a literal translation, Kounosu means “stork nest” which explains why some earlier sketches for the labels include storks on them. It doesn’t explain why the earlier drafts included a monkfish but there you have it!