Museum of Sake Journal Summer 2015 - Page 29

EUROPE’S FIRST SAKE BREWERY A BEER NO ONE SEEMED TO UNDERSTAND A SAKE NO ONE SEEMED TO UNDERSTAND Nøgne Ø was founded in 2002 and is located in Grimstad by the coast of Southern Norway about 300 km south of Oslo. The English translation of Nøgne Ø is ‘Naked Island’ and derives from a poem by Henrik Ibsen in which he describes the barren outcrops of rock off Norway’s coast. After years of struggle Nøgne Ø had finally become a great success story - but instead of resting on their laurels co-founder and head brewer Kjetil Jikiun searched for new challenges. The name Naked Island also evokes a symbolic picture of what the two passionate Norwegian home brewers Gunnar Wiig and Kjetil Jikiun did in early 2002 when they decided to found a new brewery. They had a vision to bring diversity and innovation into the Norwegian beer scene, which at that time was dominated by industrial lager beers. Despite an enormous urge to share their passion for high quality beer, the first years were extremely hard for Nøgne Ø. People in Norway were not used to the bold and full-flavoured ales that the brewery represented and pubs would frequently decline their offer, complaining that such beers wouldn’t sell. The brewery was on the verge of bankruptcy several times during the first years, but the team at Nøgne Ø didn’t give up and kept brewing, believing in the potential of their beer. After years swimming upstream Nøgne Ø finally started to gain credibility. They started to export to the large US market and in 2008 the brewery took home two medals in the prestigious International World Beer Cup Competition. From then they have gone from strength to strength, and Nøgne Ø is today Norway’s leading and largest supplier of bottle-conditioned ale. Kjetil had fallen in love with the flavours in sake and combining this with his fascination for its brewing techniques, sake became the new challenge. Over the years Kjetil had made several trips to Japan where he had built a strong network of people within the sake community who could help and give advices on how to get started with his newest project: 裸 島 Hadaka Jima - Nøgne Ø sake. Following the same style of his beers, Kjetil wanted to brew a sake with character and integrity; a bold, rich and full-flavoured type. As one of the steps to achieve this, he decided to use the older and more traditional Yamahai method that utilises natural lactic bacteria to produce the lactic acid that is needed to clean out the environment in the Shubo (yeast starter) in order to give the best conditions for the sake yeast to grow. Other notable brewing choices were the use of Japanese Ginpu sake rice from Hokkaido and in one of the sakes (Yamahai Motoshibori) he even decided to use naturally occurring yeast. When Nøgne Ø presented their first sake in spring 2010, history seemed to be repeating. The feedback was exactly the same as they had received years before when they first went out to the market with their beers. Restaurants declined their offer and complained that their sake wouldn’t sell. But unfazed and despite a lack of support, Nøgne Ø understood what they were doing and kept brewing and believing in the potential of their sake. And in 2012 their efforts paid off when they took home two medals at the London Sake Challenge: A gold medal for the Yamahai Motoshibori and a bronze medal for their Junmai Shu. MUSEUM OF SAKE JOURNAL 29