Europe’s First Sake Brewery – Nøgne Ø

SAKE - Nama-GenshuNøgne Ø – “Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri” (English: Naked Island – “The Uncompromising Brewery“) in the small coastal town of Grimstad, Norway, started making craft beer in 2003.  The motivation was not to become successful and rich, but to revolutionize the Norwegian beer culture which was dominated by bland, filtered and pasteurized light lagers.  

The initial response on these hoppy, sometimes dark, unpasteurized and unfiltered beers was that this was not beer.  It was described as odd, extreme and even undrinkable.  Over the years, Nøgne Ø was able to change Norwegian’s understanding of beer, and gradually the company changed from being operated by unpaid labour to becoming a profitable enterprise with 20 employees, and shipping its beers to 25 export markets.

Nøgne Ø Nama-Genshu Sake (click on photo to enlarge)

If the owners of Nøgne Ø had been sensible and rational people, they would have been happy with this success and focused on developing their beer production.  But passion driven people are different.  In 2010, the brewery started making sake as the first in Europe.  Leading up to this production, was several years of studies and network building.

Without good friends in Japan, the project would never have materialized.  The rice was sourced from Hokkaido, with the philosophy that it would make sense to use cold climate rice, since the brewery operates in a cold climate.  The sake from Nøgne Ø is made with the yamahai yeast starter method.  This is the procedure most Japanese sake breweries discontinued to follow about one hundred years ago, but which has some unique qualities regarding flavour and acidity levels.

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Nøgne Ø Yamahai Motoshibori Sake Label

Launching yamahai sake was indeed a repetition of the beer launch a few years before:  “This is not sake”, was the response from many Japanese restaurants, unable to appreciate the characteristically different flavour profile of yamahai sake.  But the team at Nøgne Ø had no tradition of giving in, and continued their path of passion.  In 2012 two of Nøgne Ø’s sake won Gold and Bronze medals in the prestigious London Sake Challenge.  Although the brewery had won many awards for their beers before, this award was significantly different.  It was the first time a team of sake sommeliers and judges gave European-made sake official thumbs up.

Read more about sake from Nøgne Ø here.


Source and photos: Nøgne Ø

Text modified by: Thor Bugge Lanesskog, ThorNews

Categories: Beverage, Culinary Surprises

1 reply

  1. That’s awesome! My mother was born in Grimstad, I have a lot of family there 🙂 I’ll have to ask them if they’ve tried Nøgne Ø’s products.

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