The Power of Kveik Compels You: Twin Cities breweries have deployed a Norwegian super-yeast in several new releases

Dried kveik yeast samples collected from Norway // Photo by Tj Turner, yeast courtesy of Chip Walton, Chop & Brew

Dried kveik yeast samples collected from Norway // Photo by Tj Turner, yeast courtesy of Chip Walton, Chop & Brew

John Garland, Deputy Editor: I’ll admit, even though we’ve already run a story on this yeast, I’m not 100% sold on why it’s so special. Brian, give me the elevator pitch. *terrible Seinfeld voice* What’s the deal with kveik?

Brian Kaufenberg, Editor-In-Chief: Kveik is an old family of yeast that had quietly been used in western Norway’s farmhouse breweries for centuries before a Norwegian software engineer named Lars Marius Garshol, who was on a mission to document Norway farmhouse breweries, helped bring them international recognition on his website, Larsblog.

First, kveik is a scientific freak of nature when it comes to fermenting beer. It ferments fast—super fast. In fact, it can ferment a beer to completion in just 36 hours without kicking off phenolic off-flavors. Second, it’s an extremophile. The yeast can survive in temperatures of up to 98 degrees Fahrenheit and have alcohol tolerances of 11–16% ABV.

tl;dr: Kveik has a rich history in Norwegian farmhouse brewing, it’s super hardy, ferments at blazing speeds, and can impart distinctive orange and tropical fruit flavors (so long as they aren’t buried under a mound of hops). I think kveik is interesting in today’s scene in that yeast is an oft-forgotten about and underappreciated ingredient.

JG: Outside of Belgians and sours, we don’t hear much about a yeast’s contribution to the flavor of a beer. But I wonder how much flavor kveik contributes beyond, say, what a regular American ale yeast strain does. Also, I think I’ve been saying it wrong. Pronunciation check, Caroline: how do we say kveik?

Caroline Carlson, Editorial Intern: Okay, my Norwegian isn’t flawless (re: nonexistent), but half an hour spent in the Norwegian-language-and-Scandinavian-brewing corner of YouTube has me confident that we should all be saying kuh-vyke or kuh-wike. (Rhymes with strike.)

Lauren Sauer, Associate Editor: Allow me to step in here with a quick reality check: the notion of “kveik beer” is something of a misnomer. Kveik is an all-purpose yeast that can be used for any style of ale—it can be used to ferment a blonde ale just as easily as a stout. Though its origins lie in Norwegian farmhouse ales, the opportunities for its uses across styles are vast.

Though we’re seeing a relative influx of hazy IPAs fermented with kveik, that’s more likely due to hazy IPA’s lasting status as the “It Girl” of craft beer. As “kveik beer” garners the attention it deserves stateside, watch out for the super-yeast being used in any number of beer styles.

Bad Weather Fog of War Hazy IPA // Photo by Tony Saunders

Bad Weather Fog of War Hazy IPA // Photo by Tony Saunders

JG: I hear that Dangerous Man and Modist made a Raspberry Sherbet Coconut Barleywine with kveik, so clearly, options abound. And maybe kveik is just a great vehicle for turbo-charging production on hazy IPAs. The way the yeast screams through its ferment, the beers seem to turn out nice and dry—with none of that flabby sweetness.

I also notice some local kveik beers being marketed as “Norwegian-style” or have names like “Norway IPA”. My current favorite, Old One-Eye from Insight Brewing, is called a Norse-Style Blonde Ale. It’s a great blonde ale, but I don’t know about it tasting “Norse.” I suppose there’s a mild estery quality about it. Is that the “farmhouse” peeking through?

BK: It certainly could be. Traditional Norwegian farmhouse ales do have a fairly ester-forward character to them. But at the same time, the kveik strains in Minnesota aren’t really mimicking the flavors you get in a true Norwegian farmhouse ale. A kveik culture in Norway might have four different strains of yeasts and bacteria working together—a mixed culture that has grown together in specific conditions over years.

The yeast labs in the U.S. are mostly selling kveik cultures that have isolated and propagated the most productive, cleanest-fermenting yeasts and have stripped out the bacteria. That’s what most U.S. breweries are using for their “kveik beers”.

But kveik is famous, at least in Mr. Garshol’s circles, for “farmhouse” style beers in Norway. We’ve called in our old friend Chip Walton, who got his hands on a couple examples. Chip, tell us about them!

Two Norwegian farmhouse-style beers from Norway using kveik // Photo by Tj Turner, beer courtesy Chip Walton, Chop & Brew

Two Norwegian farmhouse-style beers from Norway using kveik // Photo by Tj Turner, beer courtesy Chip Walton, Chop & Brew

Chip Walton, producer of Chop & Brew: I have three unique beers to share. One is a true farmhouse ale or haimabrygg (homebrew) brewed in the old-style tradition of Western Norway by homebrewer Ivar A. Geithung. I had the honor of helping Ivar with this day-long brew during a visit to Norway last year; the beer traveled back across the Atlantic in my suitcase in a two-liter soda bottle. (We’re so fancy!)

It was brewed using centuries-old methods on Ivar’s Selland family farmstead, about 25 kilometers from Voss. This means hundreds of liters of brewing water steeped with alderwood and juniper, a long high-temperature mash, and a very long boil (five hours) over an open fire in a massive copper kettle that looks like a wizard’s cauldron. It was fermented with pure dried kveik that Ivar got from the man himself, Sigmund Gjernes of Voss.

Chip Walton of Chop & Brew's homemade farmhouse ale made with a Norwegian friend // Photo by Tj Turner

Chip Walton of Chop & Brew’s homemade farmhouse ale made with a Norwegian friend // Photo by Tj Turner

Zach McCormick, Social Media Coordinator: Wow, Chip, this unmistakable alderwood smell on your soda-bottle beer is jogging my memory back to a beer called Stjørdal that I tasted a little over a year ago while I was writing a story about HammerHeart Brewing in Lino Lakes.

Their head brewer, Austin Lund, began his career by interning at Haandbryggeriet, one of the Norwegian breweries attempting to revive traditional farmhouse styles. Stjørdal was brewed with a lot of your farmhouse benchmarks, including alderwood smoke, juniper boughs, and of course, kveik. It charges at your nose with those same savory, smoky alderwood notes and gives way to a vegetal woodiness. It’s sort of like smoked meat in a glass, in the best way possible.

CW: The other two beers were sent to me from Norway by Torkjel Austad and his professional brewery Bygland Bryggeri. They are part of an ongoing beer series called For the Love of Kveik. The idea here is to brew one beer with each of the 53 kveiks currently listed on the National Collection of Yeast Cultures registry in the U.K., from a recipe inspired by the origin or family/owner of the kveik.

Kveik from the NCYC has been cleaned of non-yeast strains of bacteria and such. While they cannot be considered 100% pure, they do still include multiple yeast strains (versus those single strains provided by U.S. commercial yeast labs) to provide an idea of what the kveik is all about.

JG: It’s really interesting that even some traditional “kveik beers” from Norway are not all full of “farmhouse” esters like Chip’s Norse homebrew. This first one is super clean.

ZM: I agree, John. This first variant, labeled simply as “#10,” feels like what would happen if you left a Belgian tripel out in the woods for a few days. There’s that unmistakable banana note and soft sweetness, but while the appearance is similar, you start to notice a piney prickle in the aftertaste that the monks wouldn’t cotton to.

Chip’s second beer, #20, brings those woodsy elements imparted by the yeast and juniper boughs right to the forefront. The aroma is really out there, reminiscent of moss, aged green tea, and even wet parchment. Kveik: It makes beer smell like soggy books!

JG: Mmm, mmm. Love the taste of a flooded library. I hope more domestic breweries start experimenting with those true mixed-culture kveik strains from Norway. But for now, I’m happy with the local results: cleaned-up kveik strains making some well-attenuated ales with no off-flavors.

The Beer List: Kveik

Cleaner and Lighter

Insight Old One-Eye // Photo by Tony Saunders

Insight Old One-Eye // Photo by Tony Saunders

Birch’s On The Lake Blonde Ale: A regular-old light golden ale, made clean and crisp by way of kveik.

Insight Old One-Eye: Dry and smooth, like a blonde ale with subtle complexity.

Hoppy or Hazy

Wild Mind Double Wegian Ale // Photo by Tony Saunders

Wild Mind Double Wegian Paradise // Photo by Tony Saunders

Bad Weather Fog of War: A well-attenuated, thin and citrusy hazy IPA.

Drekker Whisper Scream: A citrusy IPA with some mild farmhouse spice on the finish.

Half Pint Laura Pale Ale: The Hornindal strain from Omega imparts some tropical/stone fruit notes.

Wild Mind Double Wegian Paradise: The Voss strain from Omega combines with wheat and oats in the mash bill for a soft and luscious double IPA.

“Farmhouse” or Smoky

HammerHeart Stjørdal // Photo by Tony Saunders

HammerHeart Stjørdal // Photo by Tony Saunders

HammerHeart Stjørdal: Smoky and savory with an enveloping alderwood aroma.

One-offs and Limited-Releases

(not currently available)

612Brew Sigmund’s Kveik: A “farmhouse IPA” featuring the local orange-vanilla scented Julius hops from Mighty Axe.

Bauhaus Vossisdoss: A super-juicy IPA with tons of tropical notes over a complex malt character. Bring this one back, Hauslers!

BlackStack Projecting Triple IPA: A collaboration with The Brewing Projekt from Eau Claire, a great example of kveik staying active and clean in the upper echelon of ABV.

Fair State SuperKveik: A 2019 bottle club subscriber series release, aged in white wine barrels that held gin, with tangerine and elderberry syrup. The juniper-adjacent nature of this beer seems spiritually akin to the traditional Norse process.

Schell’s Stag Series Nordic IPA: A well-balanced IPA with just the right amount of mild citrus bitterness.