HIGHLY APROPOS that Hitachino’s logo is an owl, for this beer is a strange bird indeed. Nominally a Belgian strong pale ale, it does have the golden hue, large foamy head sticky with wheat, candied Belgian yeast aroma, and complex array of sweet fruity esters. But then there’s an odd gilding of strawberry, citric fruit like clementine or lemon, an untraceable earthy spice, and a distinct lactic sourness that places this beer somewhere between a malty Witbier, sweet lambic, and infected strong golden ale. Lurking beneath it all is the secret grain that gives this beer its can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it character—red rice. This is Hitachino Nest’s Red Rice Ale from Japan, and it’s like no Belgian on earth.
While Red Rice’s primary yeast strain seems authentically Belgian, all of its remaining quirks—the elusive grain textures; fuller, slightly gummy body; funky tartness; lack of bready undertones; overall peculiarity—seems directly relatable to the red rice (reportedly 25% of the grain bill). That’s not to say this is sake masquerading as a Belgian beer: strange it may be, but most drinkers would still peg Red Rice Ale as traditional beer before guessing at Japanese adjuncts. Indeed, the rice can be hard to pick out, much less define, unless one knows the beer’s origins. But it’s clear there’s something ‘awry’ here from the first sip and the finish is no simpler, combining the water’s moderate alkalinity with latent acid for a slight astringency. The ABV of 7% lands in a slightly odd space between pale ale and a strong golden—allowing more fermentation would have left the body crisper than its estimated FG of 1.018 and perhaps helped focus its flavors. Ultimately Red Rice Ale is stretched too far in too many directions, but it’s certainly stimulating and hardly bad.
Served: 24 oz bottled July 2012 (R12.07)