Here's how Japan's brews stack up

I was joined at an informal tasting by Los Angeles Times Magazine acting editor Leslie Brenner and Food assistant editor Betty Hallock. We tasted the following craft beers available at Los Angeles-area stores. (Note: Supplies are limited, and some retailers complain of delays in delivery.) Prices are per bottle. The beers are listed in order of preference.

Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale: This is a malty, mouth-filling beer with a clean, floral-woodsy nose and a long, rather hoppy finish -- it had the most hop bitterness of the tasting. The striking outdoorsy aroma comes from aging in cedar barrels. It would go wonderfully with flavorful fish such as mackerel or sardines. At Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463,; and Vendome Liquor and Wine, Studio City, (818) 766-9593, $4 to $5.

Hitachino Nest White Ale: Here Hitachino presents its version of a Belgian wheat beer, flavored with orange peel, coriander and nutmeg. It has the proper hazy straw color and yeasty nose, with a lightly creamy texture on the palate followed by a gently bitter finish and lingering spice aromas. Available at Hi-Time Wine Cellars, Wally's Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles, (310) 475-0606,; selected Beverages & More stores, (call local branch for availability); and Cap N' Cork Jr. Market in Silver Lake, (323) 665-1260,; $4 to $4.50.

Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale: This is distinctive from first glance, just because of its reddish amber color. It's brewed from red rice and fermented with a mixture of sake yeast and German beer yeast. It has a scent of sweet raspberry with a faint whiff of the barnyard; the palate is appealingly round and the finish continues the fruit flavors. At Hi-Time, Wally's, Beverages & More and Cap N' Cork, about $4.

Echigo Stout: The color is almost black, with flavors following suit. The aromas suggest molasses, dark soy sauce and mushrooms, with charcoal and bitter chocolate notes on the palate, leading to a long, soy-molasses finish. This is far more of a food beer than most stouts. At Hi-Time, about $4.50.

Echigo Koshihikari Beer: The intense aroma recalls a grassy New Zealand Sauvignon, but the flavor is much like an ordinary lager with a moderately creamy finish. It would be good with delicately flavored fish. At Hi-Time and Wally's, about $4.

-- Charles Perry