There's a reason why Heineken hasn't innovated a new kind of beer for a long time, according to its global brewmaster, Willem van Waesberghe. The company's signature lager is so iconic there's no reason to brew another one.
But now, the second-largest beer company in the world has reconsidered. This Tuesday, March 13, Heineken's H41 Wild Lager will make its Miami debut at the Broken Shaker.
The new beer was concocted by Waesberghe, a geologist-turned-brewer, in 1995. Today he oversees all of Heineken's brewmasters, 77 in all, at least 25 of whom are women, who ensure each beer's taste.
During Waesberghe's time at the oldest brewing school in the United States, the Siebel Institute in Chicago, he came across a paper authored by Diego Libkind, an Argentine biologist who discovered a wild mushroom, Cyttaria stromata, on beechwood trees in the Patagonian forest. They had a faint smell of alcohol.
It turned out the mushrooms contained Saccharomyces eubayanus, a species of wild yeast. A DNA analysis discovered its long-lost genetic connection to the yeast used to make Heineken's standard lager beer, according to Waesberghe.
The yeast strain was deposited in one of the world's largest fungi collections in the Netherlands, where Waesberghe gathered a sample and began developing a new beer.
"If that brew had not succeeded and the taste would not have been great, we wouldn't have started this project," Waesberghe says. "The first brew was pure luck. There's a little bit of serendipity there."
Development took two years, partly because the new yeast strain required different growing conditions versus Heineken's standard lager.
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"We had to rethink our fermentation process," he says. "We understood that bringing in a yeast from nature means that you have to adapt your brewery."
Unlike Heineken's original "A" lager yeast, the wild yeast strain avoids large amounts of sugars. H41, which clocks in at 5.3 percent alcohol-by-volume, is all about yeast, rather than hops and grain, Waesberghe says.
"I'm starting the story of why yeast is so important for beer because we also got a feeling that the story got lost in the war or in the unbelievable amount of beers that are all focused on hops and a little bit of malt," he says. "Nobody talks about yeast."
Miami was among the cities chosen for H41's limited distribution. Sip it at the following locations: Wynwood Diner, the Butcher Shop, Loui, Broken Shaker, American Social, Fi’lia, W Hotel South Beach, Lagniappe, Racket, Crazy About You, Kyu, R House, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, and Tap 42.