Hitachino Nest XH (Japan: Belgian Strong Ale: 8% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy dark cherry red. Some loose floating sediment. Small off white bubbled head and distinctly low carbonation.

Nose: Malt. Blackcherry and prunes. Sake (nihonshu) or possibly gin, most likely from the Shochu influence.  Peanuts and bamboo.  Mouthwash cleanness, strawberries and chives.  A very mixed up but not significantly powerful nose.

Body: Plums, evident alcohol and uncooked potatoes. Very smooth texture. Figs and glacier cherries.  Light caramel. Bitter at the back. Banana touches that grows significantly through its lifespan.

Finish: Dry gin styling. Light amount of malt loaf and bitterness.  Tangerine, banana and candy sweets. Mouthwash toffee and cloves.

Conclusion: I had a chance to try Shochu  in Japan about a year ago. It didn’t strike me as the most complex of spirits, seeming closer to a banana influenced vodka that the depth of my beloved whisky.  However, let’s face it; chances are I didn’t try the good stuff so I shouldn’t judge the whole style by a few examples.

I bring this up because, while I have tried to use other slightly more common flavours in the tasting note to explain what the beer tastes like, it is hard to get around the fact that the shochu flavours are pretty damn evident.  The spirit gives a quite clean yet potent alcohol touch to the flavour.

The Belgium ale underneath seems to be quite solid. I’m guessing it would not be exceptional without the bit extra from the oak ageing – it hints at cherry sweetness and a decent dose of malt, mixed in with what my co taster  Will described as “Christmas spices”. A definite solid and quite sweet base.

Despite that it is quite the shifting beer, with many odd dashes of flavour showing up momentarily. Seems somewhat like an abstract art piece, not really a discernable structure but many little inspirational touches.  (and I’m guessing people who actually know about art will be grinding their teeth right about now, sorry)

It is a lovely novelty of a beer, but not exceptional as a beer.  The shochu is a touch too evident in the finish, which is a pity considering the fruit of the main body.  Something for if you are bored by the usual barrel ageing.

Background: This Belgian style ale has been aged in Shochu (A Japanese distilled spirit) casks. I’m a pretty big fan of the Japanese craft beer scene and Japan in general so I try and hunt down the few examples of their beer that turn up on these shores. Hitachino Nest is a brewery I had heard of in Japan, but had never hunted down any of their beers before.  I seem to be on a bit of a run of oddly aged beers at the moment, which is nice.