Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Japanese Science, Egyptian History, and European Styles- The 3 Niles

The River Nile has long held a poetic and revered place in the hearts of peasants and kings alike. Blessing its banks with a touch that sways from gentle and loving to harsh and destructive all in a single moment, it has  nourished and ravaged empires for millennia. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that countless scientists routinely search the serpentine banks of the Nile for the remains of people forgotten by time, long since buried beneath the shifting sands and ebbing waters. Among these scientists are archeologists and plant geneticists from Kyoto University and Waseda University. Unlike their peers, who pick and chisel for ancient artifacts, these scientists search along the Nile for a more glorious and worthy pursuit: beer! Specifically, to revive the now extinct wheat strains used in beers of Egypt.

That is where Kizakura Brewery ( steps in. Kizakura is a medium- sized craft brewery located in Fushimi, towards the southern end of Kyoto Prefecture. Partnering with Kyoto and Waseda Universities, Kizakura has produced three distinct beers based on types of wheat grown along the Nile in time immemorial. They have produced the White Nile, Blue Nile, and Ruby Nile. I had the pleasure of sampling these craft beers after picking them up from a small supermarket in the Kyoto JR Station on my way out of town.

White Nile
The White Nile is a wheat-infused take on a saison. The beer is low in alcohol for the style (5.0% ABV) but decent. The beer had the appearance of a lager but with the head and lacing of a hef. Aromas of sun-dried hay, lemon rind, phenols, and a slight but noticeable yeast funk are present. The taste is light and buttery with damp and earthy pine hops backed by the barnyard yeast funk characteristic of saisons. There is slightly more carbonation than normal for a saison, but I liked this. This beer is not a traditional saison in that it has wheat in it, is low in ABV, and the flavors are fairly light. That being said, I would still call this a session beer at the end of the day and recommend it to my friends.

Blue Nile
The Blue Nile doesn’t fit into any categories very well. It’s a Japanese witbier that uses until-recently-extinct Egyptian wheats, Caribbean coriander rinds, a European style, and Japanese yuzu. It’s also advertised as ‘low malt’… I didn’t notice that. The appearance was a little cloudy but a bit more pale and transparent than most witbiers. The smell was similar to the White Nile as far as the sweet buttery malts, but a hint of banana and a medley of sweet tropical fruits snuck in to join the party. The taste was quite good! The buttery malt edge and tropical fruit notes (banana, mango, pineapple) really come together nicely. The beer had a full, well rounded mouthfeel. This was my favorite beer of the bunch.

Ruby Nile
Finally, I enjoyed the Ruby Nile. This is labeled as a ‘traditional ale’, but it brought to mind several red ales when I drank it. It was ok… keeping in mind red ales aren’t my favorite. The color was coppery and sanguine with a small but persistent tightly laced head. Fragrances of cherry, dulce de leche, smoke, date, and phenols were apparent. The finish was a bit metallic and phenolic for me but considering the 7.0% ABV, acceptable. The mouthfeel was rich and full and wasn’t afraid to stick around for awhile. I’d say this beer is ok but not my choice of the bunch due to its metallic finish.

Beers incorporating ancient ale techniques and ingredients always excite my imagination and are even more intriguing to me when they are done right. These were done right. I don’t know if I’d put any on par with Midas Touch (an ancient ale made by Dogfish Head), but they are all still much better than the watery-beer maze I’m navigating out here.

BTW, next week, I will take a brief departure from Japanese beer as I go on vacay- Thai beer spots to be blogged about shortly!

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