I didn’t get to Asia or Australasia in 2013, not even close. But I was fortunate enough on several occasions to have representatives from the region come to me, both individually and collectively, so that I had ample opportunity to taste a great number of Australian, Kiwi and Asian ales and lagers.
And of all those beers from all those breweries, one specific brand stands out in my memory: Hitachino Nest Nipponia from Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery.
It was presented to me at the New York bar Jimmy’s No. 43 by Toshiyuki Kiuchi, the head of the company who was at the time touring the U.S., just prior to a beer dinner we were co-hosting. I loved the bright flavours it presented, and the way it took what I’ve always viewed as a relatively simple and straight-forward hop, Sorchi Ace, and coaxed a greater complexity out of it. But most of all, I loved the story of how it was brewed from a nearly extinct variety of barley, brought back to existence from a few seeds through the efforts of the company, which even went so far as to ship the grains to the U.K. for malting, and then back to Japan for brewing.
Prior to that point, frankly, the Kiuchi beers had never made that strong an impression upon me. Thereafter, however, perhaps stimulated by a greater and growing interest in the company, I began to discover brews of interest far beyond their merely pleasant White Ale and Red Rice. Beers like Dai Dai IPA, which is hardly an IPA, but is still a most fascinating and enjoyable quaff, and XH, a strong, whisky-edged ale I’m embarrassed to say languished for months in my beer fridge before I was inspired to taste, and thoroughly enjoy, it.
Still, at the end of the day, my thoughts drift back to the glorious lack of logic that resulted in Nipponia, and that’s reason enough for me to make the Kiuchi Brewery my pick as Asian-Australasian Brewery of the Year.