Courtesy of Heineken

A surprise scientific discovery led to the brewery's latest creation. 

Elisabeth Sherman
September 27, 2017

Heineken, as the beer company’s master brewer, Willem van Waesberghe, commented at a dinner party last night celebrating the launch of its H41 brew, has otherwise tasted the same since 1864, when the brewery was founded in Amsterdam. The recipe has certainly changed (for instance, the beer used to be brewed in wooden barrels; now they’re steel), but the company has used its so-called A-yeast in the production of its beer for 130 years. That impressive legacy changed in 2010, when an Argentine scientist named Diego Libkind stumbled upon a treasure, hidden in the Patagonian woods. 

Libkind discovered that the wild mushrooms growing on the trees along the trail where he was walking had a faint alcohol scent when they broke open on the ground. He guessed that meant the mushrooms contained yeast, so he gathered a sample and after a year of conducting tests, he determined that he really had clandestinely stumbled upon a new type of yeast, what van Waesberghe terms “the mother of all lager yeasts.”

The next year, Libkind authored a scientific paper on the subject, and Heineken, catching wind of the discovery, decided to acquire the yeast from Libkind (they now have the exclusive license to brew beer with the yeast), convinced that, using the vast resources at the company's disposal, they could “tame,” the yeast into a new beer.

After two years experimentation at the brewery, van Waesberghe developed H41, the first in Heineken’s limited edition Wild Lager Exploration Series. He calls his creation “the missing link between ales and lager beers.”

Attendees of last night’s dinner, with a menu crafted by the Patagonian chef Francis Mallmann, were the first to try H41 in America. Even for people like myself, who don’t often drink beer, H41 is a crisp, refreshing take on the classic Heineken beer. It’s easily drinkable—the flavor of hops is far from overpowering—with hints of an earthy, spiced flavor. While your typical bottle of Heineken might taste watery, H41 has a full and distinct flavor. The rest of the country will be able to try the beer—brewed with this first-of-its-kind yeast—in mid-October when the beer becomes available on draught on New York City.