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Beer Reviews

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout


Style: Stout
ABV: 7.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Konnichiwa fellow Beer Dorks and welcome to Nigel’s first review during the 33rd Annual International Beer Month. This year’s IBM is brought to you by the guys who made that depressing Nationwide commercial that aired during the Super Bowl, so don’t expect any humor or tact.

“Nigel, why don’t you guys review more Asian breweries during International Beer Month?” asked no one ever, and that imaginary question led me to kick off a month that is almost over with a trip to Japan. Our friends at Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki, Japan, have been brewing craft beer in the European tradition with a Japanese twist since 1996. However, they’ve been brewing sake and shochu since 1823, when village leader Kiuchi Gihei established his namesake brewery. That unique history has made the craft beers brewed at Kiuchi under the Hitachino Nest name among the most recognizable and highly regarded in all of Asia and the world.

Most folks, including myself, likely thought that Hitachino Nest was the name of the brewery. The stylistic writing on the bottle reminiscent of the 1970s and the iconic owl logo are recognized by all, even if they’ve never tried one of Kiuchi’s Hitachino Nest offerings. Hitachino Nest White Ale is the most common, often found in bottles at American craft beer retailers as well as on tap at good sushi and hibachi restaurants (Nigel loves him some sushi, but prefers warm sake as an accompaniment). Kiuchi produces a number of unique ales under the Hitachino Nest line, including XH, a Belgian strong ale aged in sake barrels, Ginger Ale (an 8 percent ABV ale brewed with ginger, nothing like Canada Dry), and Red Rice Ale, which is brewed with a type of rice that’s been cultivated in Japan since ancient times. Be it specialty ales brewed with a twist or standard takes on European/American styles, Hitachino Nest offerings are typically highly regarded in the craft beer community.

I chose Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout to review for a few reasons. First and foremost, I’m a coffee lover and a beer lover, so a well done coffee stout is right up my alley. However, being a coffee and beer connoisseur, I’m pretty selective when rating coffee beers. Also, it’s February in the Midwest, so a dark beer is much more appealing given the conditions. And finally, I figured what better way to test the brewing chops of a Japanese brewery than to sample an offering that embodies absolutely nothing I think of when I think of Japan. If Kiuchi can pull off a top notch espresso stout from the other side of the world, then clearly they’re world class in their commitment and execution of craft beer.

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout pours well, with a surprisingly thick, pillowy tan head over an inch deep that slowly dissipates, leaving quite a bit of residue throughout. The head was more creamy than fizzy, a good sign for a stout, though the pour did leave some concerns that it may be over-carbonated (those concerns would prove unwarranted). Color-wise it’s as dark as you can get, though there is quite a bit of sediment that breaks up the monotony of darkness.

The aroma is inviting for a coffee lover, as the invigorating smell of dark roasted coffee beans permeates. It’s among the better coffee aromas I’ve experienced … dark roasted beans without any hint of staleness. Sweeter aromas come through after the initial pop of coffee hits the nostrils, with creamy milk chocolate and other sugary notes balancing the scent a bit. Basically it’s an espresso with a touch of cream and sugar. I prefer my espresso in Americano form … four or five shots topped off with hot water. No milk, no cream, no sugar, although I don’t mind a little sweetness in the aroma of a fine coffee beer.

The flavor emulates the aroma for the most part, but has a few additional characteristics. Dark roasted coffee dominates as expected. It’s a solid coffee flavor, one that’s bold and not watered down or stale. The dark roasted coffee is quickly joined by other roasted malt flavors, then joined by hints of sweetness in the form of milk chocolate. The milk chocolate gives a nice, creamy aspect to the flavor. Present at times in the flavor that I couldn’t detect in the aroma are slight hints of vanilla, as well as some notable dark fruit profiles. Those elements provide a bit of a twist to the standard coffee beer and help make Espresso Stout nice and balanced. Full bodied with an ABV around 7.5 percent, Espresso Stout is a balanced, drinkable beer that’s a great representation of the style.

While it’s one of the better coffee beers I’ve had, Hitachino Nest doesn’t stand out quite enough to garner a 5 mug rating. However, it’s a solid 4 mugger, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that a Japanese brewer that branched off from a centuries old sake brewery created a beer this solid with ingredients that aren’t even remotely Japanese is a true testament to the dedication and diversity of craft brewers worldwide. Kudos to Kiuchi for creating such a fine beer, and I definitely recommend picking one up not only for the souvenir owl bottle cap, but for the quality coffee stout contained inside that bottle.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 26, 2015.
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