03 May 2017

Less than the meaning of life

Last year the War of the Eurolagers took a turn for the historical with both Carlsberg and Heineken looking to the past to secure themselves a prestige advantage over their rivals. The Danes unearthed a bottle of 19th century beer, cultured the yeast from it and brewed what they called The Father of Modern Lager (I reviewed it here).

Around the same time, Heineken went even further back in lager history and brewed a beer using the wild Patagonian yeast strain which was identified in 2011 as the origin -- the "mother" as their marketing guff puts it -- of all lager yeast. The resulting beer, H41°, had a moment in the sun with the beer press then went into hibernation. A couple of weeks ago, however, it started to appear in bars around Dublin and I caught up with it on a quiet Sunday afternoon in Idlewild.

It looks like Heineken. If it wasn't for the tactile illuminated tap badge and the wordy brewer-signed pint glass I would have assumed this was the same old pilsner. On tasting, however, it presents quite a different vista. The first word I wrote down is "melanoidin". It has that particular mouth-coating big-bodied biscuit sweetness that I associate with amber-coloured malts and the whole genre of Vienna lager. I had seen people describe this as akin to a wheat beer and after a moment or two I understood why: partly it's just that big, not-quite-attenuated, greasy texture; but also there's a similar sort of fruit ester, verging on banana but not quite getting all the way there, to my mind. The hops are much less prominent than in a pils, even one like Heineken: just a very light lemony tang, no more than you'd find in a very average witbier.

What does the experiment teach us? Not a whole lot, in my case, other than the observation that proto-lager yeast isn't very efficient. The ABV here is 5.3% and with all that residual sugar in evidence I'm reckoning there was quite a hefty grain bill. From a consumer perspective you'd be as well drinking an old-fashioned lager: something like Samuel Adams Boston Lager will hit a lot of the same flavour points as this. I will give Heineken some credit for the experiment, however. This is far more interesting a brand extension than Heineken Light. That said, I haven't actually tasted Heineken Light yet. Stand by...

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