Our post comparing popular Japanese beers left us greatly impressed with Hitachino Nest. The White Ale variety, specifically, since that’s the headliner and most common from this label in the U.S. (and Japan, too, probably). As we described in that post, the White Ale proved to be our favorite among the most common Japanese beer varieties, beating out even our beloved Sapporo.
So imagine our surprise when we came across three more varieties at Westover Market, “an organic neighborhood market,” beer garden (with seating indoors and out), and deli. The market-deli combo offers some of the more exotic meats in the area — rabbit, elk sausage and so on — as well as hundreds of mostly specialty beer varieties. But enough about Westover; back to Japan…
Like most specialty beers, the Hitachinos are sold individually here. We pick up one bottle of each and start our three-night tasting with the Dai Dai — 大大 or だいだい or 大だい, as you prefer: for “very big,” “big big,” “very very”… The Japanese on the label leaves the question open (the Dai Dai is the middle bottle in the pic at top). In any case, it’s an IPA, heady with medium lacing, orange in color — it looks browner in the pic than it did in natural light — with a matching note of citrus on the palate, long and dry in the finish. Not having a Spiegelau glass on hand, we drink it from a tulip glass but it proves to be as good or better — a bit sharper — from the bottle. A good summer brew.
Next, it’s on to the Anbai Ale. That’s 塩梅 (あんばい), meaning “flavor.” It’s a lighter, brighter orange in color than its big-big brother, with similar head. According to Beer Advocate, this variety is based on the brewery’s White Ale headliner and infused with plum, then finished “with a pinch of Japanese sea salt.” That would explain its eponymous claim to flavor. The aroma is fruity and, on the palate, there’s a brightness, sweetness, and light carbonation, followed by a slightly sour finish. We’re not synesthetes or anything, but we want to describe the taste as “bright yellow.” It’s all sort of surprising for a beer with this much muscle (see note), but we might expect its appeal to be less general than, say, the White Nest or Dai Dai. And we didn’t really notice the sea salt. We prefer this one out of the glass over the bottle, unlike the Dai Dai — a glass opens it up, revealing the fruity nose and more flavor, the “bright yellow.”
Based on the label descriptions, the Japanese Classic Ale variety seems like it may prove the most complex: “Matured in Cedar Casks.” We decide to save it for last. Glad we did. This is an outstanding ale, crisp and clean with a full flavor that fills the mouth. The aroma bears some natural fruitiness but the cedar, we’re guessing, removes a bit of that from the flavor, which is fine with us. That woodiness comes through in the flavor, just. There’s a long, clean, hoppy finish — no lingering sour notes. It’s amber in color with the headiness of the others but lighter lacing. The amount of carbonation is just right, somewhere in between the Dai-Dai and flatter Anbai.
The Classic even beats out this brewery’s White Ale, in our opinion. Pity it’s not available more broadly in the Northern Virginia area. We’ll keep our eyes out and make another stop at Westover.
Try the Classic Ale.
♦ These brews’ ABVs according to their labels (there may be some rounding-to-the-nearest-half-integer going on)… Dai Dai: 6%; Anbai: 7.5%; Classic Ale: 7%.
♦ The full beer line-up
♦ An outline of Japanese beer history, according to the country’s Brewers Association. We didn’t know that beer was introduced in Japan in 1853 by way of a Dutch recipe.