How could they have got it so wrong?
The Pale Ale, the IPA, and the German-style Kolsch from Japanese brewers Hitachino Nest and Niigata Beer Co. bear no similarities to the beer styles they are modelled on. But this doesn’t matter one jot because these three beers are enjoyable and unique in their own right.
By trying to reference their output against European styles these Japanese brewers are doing themselves a bit of an injustice. Certainly it is fair to say that each of the beers sampled at the ‘Beer and Buns’ pop-up restaurant above the K10 Japanese sushi bar in the City of London had great appeal.
Billed as offering the largest selection of Japanese craft beer in the UK Beer and Buns is a great opportunity to try some unusual imported brews – 15 beers are available including a rare appearance of Asahi Super Dry on draught.
The IPA in question – Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale – is slowly matured in Cedar casks traditionally used in the brewing of Sake. With only mild hops used the Cedar injects a lovely sweetness but it’s in no way an IPA as we know it (especially one that is packing an ABV of 7%).
Likewise with the Kolsch – it bore no relation to the versions I recently sampled in Cologne – the home of the style. However, the Niigata Beer Co. Golden Kolsch was a warming 7% amber brew that had a pleasing softness in its mouthfeel (a common feature of Japanese beers).
Now on to the Niigata Unfiltered Pale Ale, which is not like any Pale Ale I’ve ever tried – neither the UK or citrusy US versions – but it is the real cracker on the Beer and Buns beer list. It has an unusual prune-like flavour that gives it a real richness that belies its modest 4.5%. The menu suggests ‘Don’t be put off by the simple branding design or that it comes in a can’. I couldn’t agree more.
Also worth a try is Echigo Koshihikari that uses a super-premium short grain rice (pretty much harvested from the back garden on the Echigo Brewery) apparently. At £9.95 for 500ml it’s the pricing that’s more punchy than the flavour, which is very light and crisp – with no aftertaste whatsoever.
Better to go for the unique Coedo Beniaka that’s brewed with sweet potatoes and whichdelivers a sweetness that’s very well modulated despite the modest hop usage. At 7% it is surprisingly drinkable.
However, the most accomplished beer on the list is Niigata Espresso Stout. And, yes it does reflect the style. It’s the richest most flavoursome brew on offer and the one that delivers the most hops, which balance extremely well with the dark malts to give the espresso hit.
It also goes extremely well with the food at Beer and Buns. The ‘Buns’ bit of the name refers to the three types of pillowy soft ‘Hirata’ buns available including the signature Chicken Kaarage with Yuzu Koshu slaw. They compliment the extremely chunky fried chicken wings whose heat and spicing just builds and builds very addictively.
But not quite as addictive as the Niigata Pale Ale.