Article

New Age Kveik

When they started talking about a collaboration beer, the initial assumption was that it would be spontaneous. That made sense given that the two breweries were Austin, Texas-based Jester King and Embrace the Funk, part of Yazoo Brewing Co., of Nashville, Tennessee. Both breweries are known for coolship ales, beers that spend long times in barrels, and an embrace of truly wild microbes.

However, as time ticked away and the limited window to brew together approached they realized that the calendar was not on their side. So, Brandon Jones, the head of Yazoo’s sour and barrel aging program, proposed something radical to Jester King Owner Jeffrey Stuffings: An IPA fermented with kveik yeast that, if the strain used did as promised, would result in a ready-to-drink ale in a matter of days. 

“It’s crazy, it’s one of those things that you hear about and it makes you spit your beer out (in surprise), like you pitch at 95 °F (35 °C) and it’s ready in just days,” said Jones. “And you get no fusel or off character. It’s pretty incredible.”

The beer, brewed in 2016, was called Pale Green Horse and is a kveik IPA. The duo brewed it with Texas Hill Country well water from Jester King’s farm, the grist was made up of local pale ale malt from Blacklands Malt plus raw oats and wheat from Barton Springs Mill. The beer was hopped with Citra®, GalaxyTM, and Mosaic® on brew day, and later dry hopped with Citra®, GalaxyTM, Mosaic®, and Strata®. Omega Yeast Labs’ Hornindal Kveik strain was used. It was only the second cultivated yeast beer that Jester King had made up to that point. 

“Hornindal will add a bit of citrus and candied fruity peach ring character, some Grand Marnier character to a beer, so using it for a citrus IPA makes sense,” Jones said.

The Revival of Kveik

Some traditions fade away over time, but thankfully the light was never fully extinguished on farmhouse beers fermented with kveik. Kveik, pronounced “kvike” or “kwike,” means “yeast” in the Nordic regions where it is found. Thanks to Lars Marius Garshol, the world was introduced to this yeast and it became a world-wide sensation. 

Garshol, a researcher and beer enthusiast, started blogging about kveik in 2013 and quickly caught the attention of pro brewers and homebrewers around the world. 

It was on a trip to Lithuania that Garshol began to learn about traditional farmhouse brewing that was being done in homes on a very small scale and remembered hearing that similar brewing was still being done in western Norway. When he visited and began talking with people, he discovered that the tradition of local brewing was still strong among some, and that the results they were getting from local yeast was unlike anything else happening in the world. 

Brewers in the region would pitch the yeast into warm or hot wort, and then would collect the kveik after each batch to use again, even weeks later, showing its robustness. Many would store the dried yeast on wooden rings that would then be added to the next batch. Garshol has talked of some brewers that have used the same yeast for decades. 

By highlighting the attributes of the yeast, what at first seemed unlikely (the high fermentation temperatures chief among them) quickly became a go-to strain for fermentation enthusiasts. Groups like the online Milk the Funk became obsessed with kveik and everyone who was interested wanted to learn more.  

Collected from various farmhouses throughout Norway, there are a number of strains that have become popular and cultivators continue to scour the countryside to find new ones that bring not only a rustic and fruit essence to a beer, but also the robustness that brewers love. Among the more recognizable strains are the earlier mentioned Hornindal, Voss, Hardanger, and HotHead®, an exclusive from Omega Yeast Labs. 

In fact, most of the yeast labs in the United States have laid claim to their own kveik and are quick to highlight its attributes to entice brewers. 

In the rush to replicate and forge new ground on a historic organism, there’s also some worry of its heritage being lost. 

“The people of West Norway, while happy that others are enjoying the flavors that come with beers made from their unique yeasts, are worried that their cultural heritage is still in danger,” wrote beer historian Martyn Cornell recently to a group of writers following a trip to the country. 

“To try to safeguard that heritage in the face of the commercialization of kveik, the West Norway Cultural Academy has launched a project to apply for traditional brewing with kveik in western Norway to be listed by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.”

Cornell points out that if the yeast gets the designation, it would join the ranks of “reggae in Jamaica, Neapolitan pizzaiuolo, Kabuki theatre in Japan, and windmill operating in the Netherlands.”

Atle Ove Martinussen, the chief executive of the West Norway Cultural Academy, said in a press release that the designation would be welcomed because “it’s very important to stress that this is an unbroken living tradition, even if fewer and fewer people are doing this traditional brewing.”

However, as Cornell points out, this is still several years away from happening, if it does at all. 

The groups needs to “gather all the evidence for the application, investigating the history of farmhouse brewing in western Norway, trying to produce a ‘molecular clock’ to show when kveik as a family of yeasts broke away from ‘mainstream’ brewing yeasts, talking to surviving farm brewers about their techniques and methods, and the importance of homebrewing to their lives and the lives of people in their communities. Then a case will be put together to go to the Norwegian government, and the government can, if it approves, put in the application for recognition of farmhouse brewing as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ to UNESCO.”

In just six years kveik has gone from being obscure outside of its region to a global brewing focus. It should not be a surprise to anyone that, especially here in America, the yeast found its way into IPAs — by far the most popular category in the craft segment and the style that fueled the beer revolution. 

“I don’t think that some of these Norwegian brewers, these small farmhouse brewers that were making beers with juniper, and herbs, and berries ever thought folks would be turning out juicy, hazy IPAs with these microbes, but here we are,” says Jones.

Why Brewers Love it 

Regardless of size, brewers in the United States have been experimenting with kveik, with many putting commercial examples into the world either on draft or in packages. While some have tried to replicate traditional Norwegian farmhouse ales, IPA is the most popular style American brewers are using kveik for.

Ryan Pappe, Head Brewer at Portland Brewing and Pyramid Brewing, said they first started to play with kveik last year in advance of the Oregon Brewers Festival. 

“One of our brewers is a Norwegian-American who lived in Norway and we had a connection to the culture we wanted to play with, and so we did something fairly typical — we took a beer that we had already made and, splitting off the wort for fermentation with kveik, what we ended up with was basically a pale ale.”

The wort they used was for the Pyramid Hefeweizen, which has 60% malted wheat. But it wasn’t as easy as just pitching and letting it go. In fact most brewers interviewed for this story said they have had to make special considerations for their fermenters to let the kveik do its thing. 

For Pyramid it meant having a technician come in and change the settings on their glycol chiller to set the tanks to 100 °F (38 °C). 

“But, man once it was going it was exciting to see it in action. It finished in two days and we started dry hopping right away. Using it really does add some complexity and fruitiness to the beer. It’s melon and tropical and not the usual citrus that you get from a lot of newer American craft hops. It’s a lot of fun to use.” 

Although not new, there is a novelty to using the yeast and pro brewers — many that have been turning out hazy IPAs for less time than kveik has been “re-discovered” — said they had fallen into the same old, same old hazy IPA that customers love — heavily hopped with Citra® and Mosaic® and fermented with Wyeast 1318 (London Ale III) or the Chico yeast. 

In North Dakota, the viking-themed Drekker Brewing Co. started experimenting with kveik in 2017 after brewery President and Co-Founder Mark Bjornstad read about it online. The first beer they made with it was Whisper Scream, an IPA.

“We are obviously drawn to the cultural aspects of Norway and it resonates with a lot of the stuff we are doing and we felt a connection to it,” he said. 

They approached the recipe in the same way they usually do. They envisioned an IPA in the 6–7% ABV range that would be hazy and aggressively dry hopped. “And just hoped that the yeast strain could do some fun modulation with the higher (fermentation) temperatures. It did, and the next time the brewers followed up with a double IPA named Hyper Scream.”

These are released under the Nordic IPA moniker and there is no hiding the giddiness in Bjornstad’s voice as he talks about what kveik does to
the beers. 

“It’s like the honey badger of yeast. It just wants to work and it annihilates anything in its way. It loves to be under-pitched and can handle anything. High gravity, weird sugars, it doesn’t matter. Stuff that would be toxic to other yeasts it just crushes it. It’s amazing.”

Drekker is currently working on a triple IPA version of the recipe with kveik. “We’re just in love with what it does to our IPAs,” he says, noting that Voss is the preferred strain for the brewery when using kveik. Otherwise it’s London Ale III for the IPAs.

For the Nordic IPAs, Drekker knocks out and pitches at 85 °F (29 °C) and lets the temperature free rise to 100 °F (38 °C), which is where they set the tank controls. It usually hits that after about six to eight hours and if they’ve timed it out right it plateaus itself at 100 °F (38 °C).

“It really doesn’t call for too much tank control,” Bjornstad said. “This is a great yeast for a brewery that wants to do an IPA but doesn’t have temperature control, to just let it go totally unrestrained.”

Dry hopping usually happens about 24 hours later, sometimes less. Double dry hopping can happen between 36 and 48 hours and on day four or five the beer is ready to be pushed out of the fermenter. 

“It’s a crazy turnaround,” Bjornstad said. “When you’re fermenting with Voss you’re getting these essential orange oil smells coming out of the fermenter. If we don’t do anything else it comes out finished with a nice oily orange zest character. Dry hopping gets rid of the orange but we get more of the tropical pineapple flavors from the hops.” 

He says that Voss doesn’t do anything that overpowers or competes with hop character but rather “assists, changes, and elevates it.” 

That is one of the reasons it is popular with brewers and why drinkers have been flocking to the beers made with it, even if they don’t necessarily realize it. 

While Drekker lists all of their ingredients on their packaging, some other brewers are not necessarily highlighting their use of kveik, even as it is chiefly responsible for turning tanks around faster with finished beer. 

Some cited the additional time it would take to talk about the yeast and what it does (in addition to teaching folks how to properly pronounce it) while others said that it is really only the hops (and how many pounds per barrel used) that customers were interested in knowing. 

Still, when asked, most brewers are eager to engage about the yeast or talk about how they have put it into use. 

“I think it might be the next wave in beer geek culture where people will be able to identify yeast strains like this, especially in hazies,” said Pappe.

Charles Porter, the Founder and Brewmaster at Little Beast Brewing in Portland, Oregon prides himself on making farmhouse beers and has been using kveik on some non-traditional recipes, including a dark ale that lets the yeast shine without too much roast present. For his hazy IPA he likes the Loki strain. 

“It ferments quickly, it’s more sustainable. You don’t need glycol, you don’t need to control it as much, it has good viability. You can re-pitch it a bunch and it’s still really good. I like how clean it is and the clean hop profile it leaves in the beer. It’s what is going to save the world,” says Porter. 

Expect it to be used in IPAs on a larger scale, but brewers are already looking to other styles of beer where kveik could be used, from English ales, to robust stouts, and even lagers (refer to “Tips from the Pros on page 18 for advice from two pros fermenting other styles with kveik strains).

“You can use it for just about anything,” says Porter. 

Securing and Using Kveik

Following the curiosity and online popularity of kveik, Jasper Akerboom, the Lab/QC Manager at Jasper Yeast in Sterling, Virginia saw a rise in the number of professional orders coming into the company. The anecdotal information he has received from brewers tends to have them falling into two buckets. The first are breweries that wanted to try it out of curiosity or even disbelief that a yeast could behave in the described manners, and after a batch (or a few) went back to their tried and true strains. The other group is the one that has gone “all-in” on kveik and is regularly ordering it and using it, typically for quick-turnaround IPAs.

Brewers that tend towards the experimental are likely getting the most out of the various kveik strains, Akerboom, says. 

“It’s a tool (that is useful in the brewhouse) for people trying to push the envelope. It loves high temperatures, high alcohol, high gravity, and it just lends itself to more stressful situations in general. So, I think you’ll start to see people do bigger stouts with it because it really can perform incredibly well.”

For the homebrewers who are looking to use the yeast for the first time, Akerboom urges them to follow the lab instructions. He knows that it can seem odd to ferment in the 95–105 °F (35–41 °C) range, but that really is where the strains thrive. 

“Fortunately, there is a lot of reading material out there, the Norwegian brewers were very open in sharing their information and what they’ve learned and it’s an excellent resource but after that it is really just about trying your own recipes and seeing what can develop.” 

Drekker Brewing Co.’s Hyper Scream clone

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.076  FG = 1.013 
IBU = 25  SRM = 6  ABV = 8.4%

This imperial New England-style IPA has a silky mouthfeel from generous oat and spelt additions, and a massive hop aroma due to massive late-hop additions and kveik yeast.

Ingredients
9 lbs. (4.1 kg) Rahr 2-row barley malt
3.25 lbs. (1.5 kg) Crisp naked oat malt
2.25 lbs. (1 kg) Weyermann Carafoam®  malt
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) Weyermann spelt (dinkel) malt
0.25 lb. (113 g) Simpsons Golden Naked Oats™ malt
3 AAU Magnum hops (60 min.) (0.25 oz./7 g at 12% alpha acids)
12 AAU Vic Secret hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 16% alpha acids)
9 AAU Citra® hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 12% alpha acids)
1.5 oz. (42 g) Vic Secret hops (hopstand)
1.5 oz. (42 g) Citra® hops (hopstand)
3.75 oz. (106 g) Vic Secret hops (1st dry hop) 
3.75 oz. (106 g) Citra® hops (1st dry hop)
1.75 oz. (50 g) Vic Secret hops (2nd dry hop)
1.75 oz. (50 g) Citra® hops (2nd dry hop)
Omega Yeast OYL061 (Voss Kveik), Imperial Yeast A43 (Loki), or LalBrew Voss Kveik
3⁄4 cups corn sugar (if priming)

Step by step
This is a single step infusion mash at 152 °F (67 °C) for 60 minutes. Vorlauf and sparge as usual to collect 6.5 gallons (24.6 L) of wort. Boil for 60 minutes, adding the first hop addition as the wort comes to a boil. Add the flameout hops at the end of the boil. Create a whirlpool and let settle for 10 minutes. Then cool the wort to 175 °F (79 °C) and add the hopstand addition and whirlpool for 10 minutes before cooling down to 80 °F (27 °C). 

Aerate, pitch yeast, and let temperature free rise to 100 °F (38 °C) during fermentation. The first dry hop additions should be added at about 24 hours at peak of fermentation. The second dry hop additions should be added on day five. Keep the beer on the hops for three more days then package as normal. Kegging is preferred. 

Drekker Brewing Co.’s Hyper Scream clone

(5 gallons/19 L, partial mash)
OG = 1.076  FG = 1.013 
IBU = 25  SRM = 6  ABV = 8.4%

Ingredients
5 lbs. (2.27 kg) extra light dried malt extract
3.25 lbs. (1.5 kg) Crisp naked oat malt
2 lbs. (0.9 kg) Weyermann Carafoam® malt
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) Weyermann spelt (dinkel) malt
0.25 lb. (113 g) Simpsons Golden Naked Oats™ malt
3 AAU Magnum hops (60 min.) (0.25 oz./7 g at 12% alpha acids)
12 AAU Vic Secret hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 16% alpha acids)
9 AAU Citra® hops (0 min.) (0.75 oz./21 g at 12% alpha acids)
1.5 oz. (42 g) Vic Secret hops (hopstand)
1.5 oz. (42 g) Citra® hops (hopstand)
3.75 oz. (106 g) Vic Secret hops (1st dry hop) 
3.75 oz. (106 g) Citra® hops (1st dry hop)
1.75 oz. (50 g) Vic Secret hops (2nd dry hop)
1.75 oz. (50 g) Citra® hops (2nd dry hop)
Omega Yeast OYL061 (Voss Kveik), Imperial Yeast A43 (Loki), or LalBrew Voss Kveik
3⁄4 cups corn sugar (if priming)

Step by step
Place all the crushed grains in a large grain bag. Heat 9.5 qts. (9 L) of water to 167 °F (75 °C) then submerge the grains into the water. Mix well and the mash should settle at 152 °F (67 °C). Try to maintain this temperature for 60 minutes. Remove the grain bag and rinse the grains with 2 gallons (7.6 L) of hot water. Top off the kettle to 6 gallons (23 L) then stir in the dried malt extract. Once all the extract is dissolved, bring wort up to a boil. Boil for 60 minutes, adding the first hop addition as the wort comes to a boil. Add the flameout hops at the end of the boil. Create a whirlpool and let settle for 10 minutes. Then cool the wort to 175 °F (79 °C) and add the hopstand addition and whirlpool for 10 minutes before con-tinuing to cool down to 80 °F (27 °C). 

Follow the remainder of the all-grain recipe instructions.

Jester King & Yazoo Brewing Co.’s A Pale Green Horse clone

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.063  FG = 1.011 
IBU = 68  SRM = 5  ABV = 6.7%

Ingredients
9.5 lbs. (4.3 kg) Blacklands Pale Moon pale ale malt
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) flaked oats
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) hard red wheat
0.66 lb. (300 g) oat groats (hulled, unmalted oats)
5 oz. (113 g) dextrine malt
5 oz. (113 g) Munich malt (20 °L)
8.4 AAU Mosaic® hops (first wort hop) (0.7 oz./20 g at 12% alpha acids)
4.9 AAU GalaxyTM hops (first wort hop) (0.35 oz./10 g at 14% alpha acids)10.8 AAU Citra® hops (0 min.) (0.9 oz./21 g at 12% alpha acids)
15.4 AAU GalaxyTM hops (0 min.) (1.1 oz./31 g at 14% alpha acids)
13.2 AAU Mosaic® hops (0 min.) (1.1 oz./31 g at 12% alpha acids)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Citra® hops (hopstand) 
0.7 oz. (20 g) GalaxyTM hops (hopstand)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Mosaic® hops (hopstand) 
0.7 oz. (20 g) Strata® hops (1st dry hop) 
0.9 oz. (26 g) Citra® hops (1st dry hop)
0.7 oz. (20 g) GalaxyTM hops (1st dry hop)
0.25 oz. (7 g) Mosaic® hops (1st dry hop)
0.9 oz. (26 g) Strata® hops (2nd dry hop)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Citra® hops (2nd dry hop)
0.5 oz. (14 g) GalaxyTM hops (2nd dry hop)
0.5 oz. (14 g) Mosaic® hops (2nd dry hop)
0.9 oz. (26 g) Strata® hops (3rd dry hop)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Citra® hops (3rd dry hop)
0.5 oz. (14 g) GalaxyTM hops (3rd dry hop)
0.6 oz. (17 g) Mosaic® hops (3rd dry hop)
Omega Yeast OYL091 (Hornindal Kveik), Imperial Yeast A46 (Bartleby),  or White Labs WLP521 (Hornindal Kveik Ale) 
3/4 cups corn sugar (if priming)

Step by step
This is a single step infusion mash at 154 °F (68 °C) for 60 minutes. Vorlauf and sparge as usual to collect 6.5 gallons (24.6 L) of wort. Add the hops to the kettle during the sparge phase. Boil for 60 minutes. Add the flameout hops at the end of the boil. Create a whirlpool and let settle for 20 minutes. Then cool the wort to 175 °F (79 °C) and add the hopstand addition and whirlpool for 20 minutes before continuing to cool down to 80 °F (27 °C). Aerate, pitch yeast, and let temperature free rise to 100 °F (38 °C) during fermentation. The first dry hop additions should be added on day three of fermentation. The second dry hop addition should be added on day seven. The final dry hop addition should be added on day 10. Keep the beer on the hops for three more days then package as normal. Kegging is preferred. 

Jester King & Yazoo Brewing Co.’s A Pale Green Horse clone

(5 gallons/19 L, partial mash)
OG = 1.063  FG = 1.011 
IBU = 68  SRM = 5  ABV = 6.7%

Ingredients
4.4 lbs. (2 kg) extra light dried malt extract
1.5 lbs. (0.68 kg) 2-row pale malt
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) flaked oats
1.25 lbs. (0.57 kg) hard red wheat
0.66 lb. (300 g) oat groats (hulled, unmalted oats)
5 oz. (113 g) dextrine malt
5 oz. (113 g) Munich malt (20 °L)
8.4 AAU Mosaic® hops (first wort hop) (0.7 oz./20 g at 12% alpha acids)
4.9 AAU GalaxyTM hops (first wort hop) (0.35 oz./10 g at 14% alpha acids)10.8 AAU Citra® hops (0 min.) (0.9 oz./21 g at 12% alpha acids)
15.4 AAU GalaxyTM hops (0 min.) (1.1 oz./31 g at 14% alpha acids)
13.2 AAU Mosaic® hops (0 min.) (1.1 oz./31 g at 12% alpha acids)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Citra® hops (hopstand) 
0.7 oz. (20 g) GalaxyTM hops (hopstand)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Mosaic® hops (hopstand) 
0.7 oz. (20 g) Strata® hops (1st dry hop) 
0.9 oz. (26 g) Citra® hops (1st dry hop)
0.7 oz. (20 g) GalaxyTM hops (1st dry hop)
0.25 oz. (7 g) Mosaic® hops (1st dry hop)
0.9 oz. (26 g) Strata® hops (2nd dry hop)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Citra® hops (2nd dry hop)
0.5 oz. (14 g) GalaxyTM hops (2nd dry hop)
0.5 oz. (14 g) Mosaic® hops (2nd dry hop)
0.9 oz. (26 g) Strata® hops (3rd dry hop)
0.7 oz. (20 g) Citra® hops (3rd dry hop)
0.5 oz. (14 g) GalaxyTM hops (3rd dry hop)
0.6 oz. (17 g) Mosaic® hops (3rd dry hop)
Omega Yeast OYL091 (Hornindal Kveik), Imperial Yeast A46 (Bartleby),  or White Labs WLP521 (Hornindal Kveik Ale) 
3/4 cups corn sugar (if priming)

Step by step
Place all the crushed grains in a large grain bag. Heat 8 qts. (7.6 L) of water to 169 °F (76 °C) then submerge the grains into the water. Mix well and the mash should settle at 154 °F (68 °C). Try to maintain this temperature for 60 minutes. Remove the grain bag and rinse the grains with 8 qts. (7.6 L) of hot water. Top off the kettle to 6 gallons (23 L) then stir in the dried malt extract. Once all the extract is dissolved, add the first wort hops and bring wort up to a boil. Boil for 60 minutes. 

Follow the remainder of the all-grain recipe instructions.