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Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale 

Wasabi, 1228 Washington Avenue, 314-421-3500.

Were you on strong hallucinogens — say, acid or mushrooms — the owl staring out from the label of Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale would freak your shit. Specifically, its dull black eyes, which suggest an infinite depth and follow as you lift the bottle to your mouth. Designed in a sort of woodcut-anime style, the rotund owl — with matching red wings and head, and a white beer belly — could easily start hooting, or maybe commence spitting out a few Ghostface Killah couplets:

If God is my witness in scriptures and pictures

The sun kiss scrumptious sun, it's nutritious

It makes me wanna climb take a bite out of shine

This little light of mine

We're eating Wasabi's sushi at an outdoor table on Washington Avenue and drinking a Hitachino Nest ale. Wasabi is thriving down here. Packed at lunch, packed at dinner, they've just doubled their capacity and recently opened a second location in downtown Clayton.

It's one of those hazy pink dusks downtown, the heat as all-consuming as a wool blanket. Cars creep by, stuck in a cute little St. Louis traffic jam, while we drink hazy pink ale and dip yellowtail nigiri into soy sauce. Cut with a dollop of wasabi, the sauce roars through the nasal cavities like a firecracker through a cave, then just as quickly passes. Place pickled ginger on your tongue and high tide fills the cave with cool ocean.

It is at this moment that Hitachino (translated: "abundant forest") Nest's Red Rice tastes best: when the palate is clean but for a twinkle of ginger sweetness. This Belgian-style, strong pale ale has been touched with, according to the label, "special red rice which had been cultured in ancient times in Japan." The result is a rosy hue with a hint of cherry sweetness. Like most strong Belgian-style ales, Hitachino Nest hits with clove and leaves a satisfying fermented honey trail down the back of the throat.

The sun sits along the western Washington Avenue horizon, its light funneled through the warehouse corridor like water through a gutter. It reflects off a thousand different windows, and shines a perfect beam on our beautiful companion. She's sipping one of Wasabi's best cocktails, the Hendrick's Orange Bowl. In this variation on Snoop Dogg's gin 'n' juice, Wasabi uses Hendrick's gin, one of the century's great spirits. It's combined with triple sec, lemonade and orange juice, and it's served on the rocks. A paper umbrella hangs on the glass. Skewered through its rod is an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Perhaps the nest owl could borrow the umbrella?

The owl? He's still staring at us as though he knows our biggest secrets, as though, on a whim, he could banish us to an abundant forest where sunlight rarely touches soil. Lost in the forest, we'll be left to wait for that perfect wisp of wind to push the leaves a certain secret way. But it will come. Sunlight will, for a moment, fill our spot with scrumptious nutrition; it will hit with the same force as a swig of Red Rice Ale on a hot summer day.

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