High in the mountains of Ibaraki, near Nagano, Japan, the Kiuchi Brewery produces what is probably the only beer in the world brewed from the rice used to make sake. For this distinction, The Food Section bestows upon Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale the illustrious honor "Best Thing to Happen to Rice Since Sake."
I first got a taste of Kiuchi Brewery's Hitachino Nest beers at the Mermaid Inn, the New England-style seafood spot in New York's East Village. There, I had Hitachino Nest White Ale, a Belgian-style witbier bursting with fruit and spice flavors of orange and coriander. This might seem unorthodox, but its bright, juicy flavor was the perfect accompaniment to a lobster roll.
Established in 1823, Kiuchi Brewery has been devoted to producing sake for most of its history. It was not until 1996 that the brewery started producing its line of Hitachino Nest beers.
According to Richard Scholz, owner of beer emporium Bierkraft in Brooklyn, where I buy the Hitachino beers, Kiuchi Brewery is one of the only breweries in the world using high quality rice to make beer (another is Yinpu, a Chinese beer made from so-called “forbidden” black rice).
The use of rice as an ingredient in making beer is not without precedent. In fact, low quality rice is a common ingredient in beer. “Budweiser is 60 percent rice,” said Mr. Scholz. “They invented the term ‘Brewer’s Rice,’ which is basically the cheapest, leftover broken rice you can find. All cheap yellow beer is made with rice or corn because it is one third of the price of barley.”
Red Rice Ale is made from polished red rice, the same rice that Kiuchi Brewery uses to make sake (the polishing process grinds the rice down to remove up to 40 percent of the outer kernel). The yeast used in the brewing process is also the same as that used in making sake, though you won’t find the addition of any koji, the rice mold central to sake production.
The beer is unlike any other I have ever tasted.
The hazy, reddish-orange ale has a slightly pink cast, and you are reminded of sake as soon as you pour it in a glass and breathe in its aroma. Take a sip, and the taste of sake greets your tongue, along with hints of citrus and caramel.
Sake and beer? It tastes like the weirdest experiment gone terribly right.
Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale is $5.00 for a 11.2 oz bottle at Bierkraft, 191 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn (718.230.7600).