When planning my trip to Japan, I made the difficult decision to cut Hokkaido from my itinerary. As it turns out, this was an excellent move: snowstorms ravaged Japan’s northernmost island for the entirety of my stay. But it means I missed out on the home of some of Japan’s most famous breweries: Sapporo, SOC Brewing, Hitachino.
Fortunately for me, as well as its main brewery in Japan’s northern wilderness, Hitachino maintains an outpost in what is probably the most urban place on earth: Tokyo rail station.
This has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it’s absurdly easy to find the general locality: all roads may lead to Rome, but in Japan at least, all railway lines lead to Tokyo. The problem is that this station houses multitudes; it’s a warren of izakayas, bars and restaurants jostling for space alongside souvenir shops and convenience stores and designer outlets, with no clear way to navigate. By the time I’ve figured out how to reach Hitachino’s Brewing Lab (out of the station and up an enormous escalator), I’m desperately in need of a drink.
Hitachino, White Ale 5.5%
Strictly speaking this is a repeat review. I tasted this beer in bottled form a long time ago. I’m expecting a different experience now: not just because it’s on draft in its home country, but because my palate’s preferences have evolved since then.
Some things remain the same, however. The White Ale is still pale yellow and cloudy. This time it’s complemented by a generous white head, in traditional Japanese style. The aroma is of orange and wheat, sweet and spicy with hints of nutmeg and white pepper.
The light, sweet, fizzy flavour is reminiscent of Tango at first. That develops to become slightly more sour, then lingers on the finish.
I’m still picking up nutmeg, but it’s subtler than the last time I tried it. It’s steady in intensity throughout; a faithful companion as I walk through the valley of the shadow of Tango.
On balance, I’m giving this White Ale a 2/5 again, but I’m glad I gave it another go.
Hitachino, Japanese Classic Ale 7.0%
If you offer me a cask-conditioned English IPA in a Japanese bar, I’m hardly going to say no. Even if you issue me a warning in extremely fast Japanese of which I understand just two words.
Chestnut brown and very clear, this classic ale comes with no head – an upshot of ordering from cask. The aroma is nutty and woody; the flavour rich, deep, and satisfying. There’s a hint of alcoholic warmth, ably assisting notes of cherry, oak, and blackberries. As it opens up I pick out hints of blood orange and peach on the palate. The mouthfeel is rounded and filling, rounding off to a blackcurrant, slightly bitter finish.
I’m not sure this is strictly an IPA; it tastes more like an ESB, if anything. Whatever style it is, this Classic Ale is bloody good. 4/5