Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sake + Beer = Extra High

I can still remember the night.  I was sitting at the bar at Sens, a Japanese restaurant in downtown Phoenix.  While I was looking at the beer menu, my attention focused on the array of Hitachino Nest beers from Kiuchi Brewery ... White Ale, Weizen, Sweet Stout, Red Rice Ale, and the XH.  It was this last beer that really grabbed my attention ... the XH.

The reason is that I had not heard of, let alone seen, a beer like the XH.  The XH,which stands for "Extra High," is a beer aged in oak casks used to mature Sake.  Not just any Sake, but Shocyu, which is a distilled Sake.  Shocyu can be made from several ingredients, including, sweet potatoes, rice, barley and soba (buckwheat).  Shocyu is also high in alcohol content, with an ABV that is usually around 25% but can be as high as 42%.  The XH spends three months in Shocyu casks before being bottled.  It is the first beer that I have encountered that has been aged in something other than wine, bourbon, or port barrels.

Kiuchi Brewery brews the XH in the style of Belgian Brown Ale. The brewer uses Marris Otter, Munich, Crystal and Chocolate malts, along with Chinook and Styrian Golding hops.  The beer has an ABV far less than Shocyu, at about 7% to 8%, and an IBU of 44.

The XH pours a copper or rust brown, with a lot of carbonation and a thick foam.  The aromatic elements of this beer clearly suggest Sake or Shocyu.  Just as a beer aged in bourbon barrels suggest the bourbon in the aroma, the XH clearly foreshadows the taste of the beer.  Many reviewers equate the smell or taste to brettanomyces, but, for me, the beer does suggest the flavors of sake.  A little bitterness, a little rice wine, and the yeast are also present in the taste of the wine. 

When it comes to pairing this beer, the obvious choice is Japanese cuisine.  I paired this beer with the Novice's Catfish Stir Fry, because I thought the sesame flavor would go well this the bitterness of the beer.   I think the XH will also go well with teppanyaki or yakitori, both of which feature griddled or grilled meats and vegetables.

This beer is available at beer stores that have a large import or craft beer selection.  It sells for about $5 to $6 a bottle.


For more about Shocyu, check out Sake World.

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