Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Night at a Beer Brewery

I rushed off from office on a Friday evening to catch a bus to the industrial district of Fo Tan up north for a guided tour of the new Hitachino Nest Brewery facility. Over the past few years, the growing trend of boutique craft beers have finally reached Hong Kong. It’s now much common for bars and restaurants to offer a wide selection of beers from around the world with some high quality but lesser known brands, and a handful of local breweries set up here in the city. Some friends even started to brew at home, keeping a container or two  inside their cupboard or wardrobe.

Having tried Hitachino Nest Beer before in bottles sold in specialty stores or bars, I was excited for see them setting up a brewery in Hong Kong and for the opportunity to visit just as they began their operations. Kiuchi Brewery, which created the Hitachino Nest brand, started making beer in mid-1990s, in addition to their sake and shochu production, which they have done for centuries, at their facility in Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture not far from Tokyo. The Hong Kong brewery is their first overseas outpost, which will support the local and Asia distribution, especially the plan to go into the China market... as owner/head-brewer Mr Kiuchi explained to us after we got off the bus and arrived at the reception room on the ground floor of an industrial building.

Originally I expected this to be a small facility, more as a showroom with limited production, but turned out it’s a full-blown beer brewing facility completed with large-scale bottling capabilities. We began with a guided tour inside the factory right behind the reception room, where the first stage of beer production took place - the “hot” section as it was explained to us. Then we were led to 10 levels up the same building in a separate area (the cold section), where the beer was kept in large stainless barrel to mature, bottled and stored. It was a great learning experience – we were even given the chance to taste the beer right off the barrel – you can’t ask for a fresher beer than that!

After the tour, we made it back to the ground floor reception area, where we started tasting their full range of beers, with a few limited edition ones originally only available in the Japan brewery. The White Ale was always my favorite and one I regularly stocked at home, but this time, I found my new love in the Red Rice Ale, with a distinct floral aroma, well-balanced flavor and a hint of sweetness. The Anbai Sour, one of the limited editions available, was also an interesting one, with that funny, subtly salty taste from the infused salty plum (anbai) into the white ale base. I thought it’s especially refreshing and hit you on the palate during the hot summer months.

During our brewery visit, we also had the chance to do some oyster tasting to pair with the beers, with the oysters coming from the Okinawa-based GO Farm, which grew their oysters using purified deep-sea water at their facility to ensure it's 100% free of impurities and virus. While the raw ones were delicious with mild, clean and crisp flavor, I also loved those that were steamed in the Hitachino White Ale and garnished with bacon bits and herbs. They were plump and juicy and loaded with umami taste. I must have chowed down like a dozen of those, each.

I had a great time, got all tipsy from the beers I got to try and even coming home with a few bottles (and a freshly made can of their amber ale) which I got to enjoy later on. Thanks Hitachino Nest Beer for the kind invitation and I am excited about this new venture bringing yet another fine beer brewed right here in town.

When? August 5 2016
Where? Hitachino Nest Beer Hong Kong, Unit A1, Unison Industrial Centre, 27-31 Au Pui Wan Street, Fo Tan, Shatin, Hong Kong

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