Featured image courtesy of Hitachino Brewery
This brand felt like they all of sudden popped up in LA, so I was wondering if they were another Shinola (“The Real History of America’s Most Authentic Fake Brand” – Inc.) with a major company behind them, or if they were really a small “craft beer” company although it’s really hard to tell nowadays what exactly a craft beer is when you have brands like Sam Adams (“It’s Time for Sam Adams to Admit It’s No Longer a Craft Brewer” – Fortune).
After some digging, it was good to find out that Hitachino beer is a company with an extensive and impressive history steeped in brewing history. They started with sake, but their constant pursuit and passion for the craft of fermenting, brewing, to distilling took them from sake in 1823, to beer in 1996, wine in and around 2000, and finally to shochu in 2003. From the amount of awards they have received over the past decade, it’s safe to say they are embodying their pursuit of perfection or in nihongo (Japanese) “kodawari“.
Before the Owl there was a Monkfish
Before they had the owl, they had also considered a stork and a monkfish although the one that I found to be amusing was the monkfish concepts. If you’re a Simpson’s fan, you might be too, or maybe I’m the only?
Who, Who, Who Is Hitachino:
Origin (their nest): Kiuchi Brewery located in Naka, Ibararki Prefecture, Japan (imagery on Google places).
The Kiuchi Brewery in Hitachino is centrally located in the prefecture of Ibaraki, a land of natural beauty and abundance. From ancient times to present day, the main occupation of Ibaraki prefecture has been farming. Kiuchi Brewery has been skillfully producing its world-renowned Sake in Hitachino for more than 190-years. Hitachino is also where Kiuchi Brewery masterfully crafts its internationally acclaimed Hitachino Nest beer. – Kiuchi Brewery
When were they established? The brewery was established in 1823 by Kiuchi Gihei (the family is currently in its 8th generation), but Hitachino Nest Beer started brewing in the autumn of 1996.
Some of their offerings: White ale 5.5% (Belgian White Ale), Pale ale 5.5% (Pale Ale), Weizen 5.5% (Hefeweizen), Sweet stout 4% (Stout) Red rice ale) 7% (Rice Beer), Extra high (XH) 8% (Belgian Strong Ale), Japanese classic ale 7% (Indian Pale) Ale, Real ginger ale 8% (Herb Spice Beer), DaiDai ale 6.2% (Indian Pale), AleEspresso Stout 7% (Coffee Flavored Beer), Nipponia 8% (Belgian Style Golden Ale), Hitachino Nest Lager 5.5% (Lager), Saison du Japon 5% (Saison).
How many countries are they distributed in: 30 countries from the US, UK, Thailand to Australia.
Where to get a drink in the US (and a link to the brewery tour in Japan):
- San Francisco: If you’re in SF, you can go to their newly opened Hitachino Beer & Wagyu pub.
- Business owners: bar or a restaurant owners looking for a local distributor.
- Find it at a bar, restaurant, or liquor store: I didn’t happen to find a directory of local businesses that carried the product, but I’ve had/found it at several local restaurants, bars, Japanese markets, and specialty liquor stores in SoCal.
- Buy online: this is a local California-based business out of Oakland called Umami Mart who carries Hitachino beer.
- Visit the Hitachino Brewery in Japan: the Hitachino (Kodawari) website provides detailed instructions on how to get to their brewery, but you can also look over the TripAdvisor reviews.
There’s several offerings by Hitachino that are uniquely Japanese, but I think this is one of their standouts: the Hitachino “XH” (Extra High) which is their Belgian strong ale that is matured in a shochu cask.
Sidenote: I’ve seen on other sites that they denote that shochu is “distilled sake”, but I think they may be referring to kasutori shōchū? which is distilled from the by-product of sake which is called “sake kasu” (the “lees” are the dead yeast). Although shochu is also distilled from sweet potatoes, barley, soba to rice, so you can liken the differences between the two like wine which is fermented from grapes (sake) whereas brandy is distilled from wine or fermented fruit juice (shochu).
For more information:
- Hitachino Nest Beer lots of good content.
- Hitachino Beer & Wagyu Pub in SF (sign up for their email list).
- Kiuchi Brewery and an English version.
- “Tapping into Japanese craft beers” by Charles Perry – This is just a really good article by the LA Times from Jan. 2, 2008, but it’s definitely worth the read.