Accesorize Your Takeout With Japanese Beer

Kiuchi Brewery beers rank highly for sophisticated flavor and a certain food-friendly strangeness.

This winter I've been enjoying the beers from Kiuchi Brewery with takeout, which I eat 55 percent more often in cold weather. I am always fascinated by the way the Japanese take in a product and refract it through their sensibility. The Kiuchi Brewery beers, better known by the name Hitachino Nest, are a Japanese take on Belgian beers. Not only do these beers come with the obligatory cute mascot of an owl on their label, they rank highly for sophisticated flavor and a certain food-friendly strangeness. Kiuchi Brewery, located a few hours northeast of Tokyo in Ibaraki Prefecture, has brewed sake since long before the Meiji Restoration, which, if you didn't catch SAM's "Japan Envisions the West" show, was when Japan finally opened up to the West. The brewery began beer production just over a decade ago; it added shochu (a distilled spirit) to its repertoire in 2003, and has plans to unveil a line of wines. The name "Hitachi" comes from the original name of the region the brewery is located in, which also includes the headquarters of the electronics company by the same name. Hitachino Nest White Ale has garnered the most acclaim for the brewery as a two-time gold medalist at the World Beer Cup. The white ale is a classic Belgian witbier scented with coriander and orange peel, and contains just enough hops to give the beer a lift. When you taste it, the underlying flavors almost creep into pilsnerland, but the hopping keeps the beer light, round, and soft. Suggested takeout: aromatic and slightly sour Thai food, especially dishes with lemongrass and tamarind paste, like the veggie phad woon sen with fresh herbs and sesame oil from Jhanjay Vegetarian Thai Cuisine in Wallingford. The Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale has that chalky, candied-cigarette smell I often get with stronger Belgian ales. There's a nutty, rich quality to the smell and taste, similar to butter chicken or brown rice, that you know isn't dessert, but the beer is not without sweetness. Suggested takeout: anything with sweet-hot flavors, like the barbecued pork from Kau Kau Barbecue Market in the ID, with extra mustard, of course. If you enjoy sour beers, the Hitachino Nest XH Ale, aged in shochu casks, is wonderfully weird. The first time I tried it I thought it had a slight lambic quality. Its lightly sour taste was almost fruity, just shy of cherry. The delicate bitter aftertaste, which is a result of the cask aging, reminded me a little of black tea. This is a beer that deserves food and is incomplete without it, like a chianti without a tomato. I can't imagine anything more perfect with the XH than the duck and bao from Lee's Asian Restaurant in West Seattle. The Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale has not only the color of pumpkin but also the faint aroma and flavor of many things orange, from apricot to squash. For a Belgian-style strong ale, it's one of the best pumpkin beers—without any actual pumpkin—that I've had in a while. Its flavor is sweet and mildly savory at the same time. The heavier body and punch of the Commemorative Ale fills out the spice and saltiness of a capicola-Gruyère Mantooth sandwich from the Other Coast Cafe in Ballard. I've seen single bottles of the various Hitachino Nest beers sold for $5 to $5.50 at specialty markets and grocery stores with bigger beer selections, the same price of a cheap glass of wine in most restaurants. When you consider the affordability of most takeout, why not splurge for your accessories? These beers are a little treat while you spend six more weeks of winter hibernating with takeout and Netflix.

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