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Posted in Beer on 2012-02-25 14:02
I don't normally do straight beer reviews, but this is not just any beer, and I think it deserves much more attention than it's received so far. It's both wildly unsual and one of my all-time favourite beers. And now that Nøgne Ø is brewing Red Horizon 2 and 3 the time seems right for a little write-up.
So, what kind of beer is it? Well, it doesn't belong to any known style. In fact, I can't think of any other beer that's even similar. The main thing that makes it stand out is the use of sake yeast for fermentation. As far as I know, this is the only beer ever made that's fermented with only sake yeast. The alcohol strength is also unusual: 17%. Sake yeasts can handle a lot of alcohol, so presumably it wasn't much of a challenge to make a beer this strong.
When Nøgne Ø started brewing sake they bought sake yeast in Japan, among them Masumi Sake's famous Yeast No 7. This yeast strain was identified in 1946 by yeast scientist Dr Shoichi Yamada on a visit to Masumi. The yeast is famous for the outstanding fruity aromas it produces, and it's spread so that today it's used by more than half of Japanese sake makers. Nøgne Ø decided to use it to brew a beer, presumably in hopes of coaxing out those fruity aromas.
The first time I tasted sake I felt like I was 18 again, drinking moonshine made out in the forest in Norway. Poorly made moonshine has a strong flavour of fusel alcohols because the distillation process is not done carefully enough to remove these alcohols. I didn't know it then, but it turns out that bad sake also has these higher alcohols in sufficient quantities that you can taste them.
According to Nøgne Ø brewmaster Kjetil Jikiun you can get these off-tastes if the sake yeast ferments at too high temperatures (top-fermenting sake?). They therefore brewed Red Horizon (and presumably their own sakes) at around 7 degrees Celsius in order to avoid this, and to bring out the aromas the No 7 yeast is famous for.
Red Horizon is, appropriately, deep red in colour with a small white head. The moment you smell it you notice that this is not your average beer. The nose is filled with fantastic peppery lime and lemongrass aromas with deep dried fruit notes. The taste is extremely powerful, as expected in a 17% beer, with the same peppery lime and dried fruit flavours, but also alcohol and citrus in the background. The mouthfeel is sharply hot from all the alcohol, but also faintly oily. The aftertaste is intensely bitter and fairly alcoholic, with the same fruity flavours. Overall, it's more like a vermouth than a beer.
I bought more than a few bottles of this beer and vastly enjoyed each one. Thankfully, Nøgne Ø had the good sense to bottle these in 0.25l bottles, so that you can drink one without becoming silly drunk. Red Horizon 2 and 3, currently being brewed, will have difference recipes from number 1, but I'm definitely looking forward to trying them.
Arnoud Haak - 2012-03-01 07:16:37
To bad those beers are not available in the Netherlands. :-(
Lars Marius - 2012-03-01 09:14:15
@Arnoud: I'm afraid you're right there. According to Ratebeer the closest you can find it is the UK or Denmark. That's life, I guess. :)
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