Heineken’s latest project is a labor of love and science. H41, the first of the beer giant’s limited-edition Wild Lager series, is the result of one Argentinian scientist’s discovery and a Heineken brewmaster’s expertise and palate. Named “H41” for Heineken, and 41 degrees south (the longitudinal coordinate where one of its key ingredients was discovered), the brew is an easy-drinking lager with a complex taste derived from a wild fungus found in the remote forests of Argentina.
The first-of-its-kind Heineken lager is made with a naturally occurring mother yeast native to the beech forests of Patagonia. Biologist Diego Libkind discovered the wild mushroom called “llao llao” littered across the lush green forest floors of this region of Argentina while on a walk. He theorized that the fungi, which grow in tumor-like knots on the beech trees, likely contained a form of yeast. After conducting many tests, he discovered that the faintly-alcoholic smelling Patagonian llao llao fungus was the perfect base for a beer.
“It was sheer luck,” Heineken brewmaster Willem van Waesberghe said of the discovery. “The mother [yeast] was a DNA we had never seen before on Earth. This is why the discovery of Diego was such a big breakthrough,” he told The Daily Meal. The duo then spent the next two years together, processing the yeast by “putting them next to each other very closely and not letting them separate,” Libkind explained to us of the hybridization process.
The resulting flavor — from the yeast “having sex,” as van Waesberghe romantically put it, and then being used to ferment the mash for this new lager — is “spicy,” with a clove-like aroma, and is also “a little smoky and has notes of caramel.” Waesberghe recommends drinkers of H41 pair it with spicy foods, chocolate, and barbecued meat — all flavors Patagonia and the city of Bariloche (where the brand will build Latin America’s first-ever brewing technology center) are known for.
As The Daily Meal’s West Coast Editor, I was lucky enough to journey to Patagonia with Heineken and try the beer, along with various meals provided by Argentine chefs and restaurants. I found the lager’s aroma to be sweet but not overpowering, with a drinkable, comforting caramel taste that truly complemented the best flavors of Patagonia including barbecued lamb, steak with chimichurri, and sumptuous creamy chocolate.
This is only the beginning for the Heineken’s Wild Lager series and its possibilities, all of which Heineken plans to brew with new yeasts developed from wild species like llao llao. “H41 isn’t the only yeast that lives here,” Libkind told The Daily Meal of Patagonia and its forests. “There are over 5,000 strains and varieties.”
“[When you] bring in a yeast from nature — a wild yeast, it has completely different reactions and so a different taste,” van Waesberghe agreed. “We’re getting more and more yeasts out of nature, finding out what their tastes are, and then we can create more lager yeasts than we ever have before.”
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Travel expenses as well as food and drink samples for this story were paid for by Heineken at no cost to the writer.