Kveik - A Gift from Our Nordic Cousins
By Steve Harbottle
When the average person hears about something “hot and fast” coming from Norway, I suspect their first inclination isn’t to think about beer but rather some new Nordic supermodel or downhill skier. For those of us in the homebrew community, we know that the only possible topic of that conversation must be our beloved friend, Kveik.
If you are a homebrewer and haven’t heard of kveik, I would venture a guess and say that you have been doing your best Rip Van Winkle impersonation and now is the time to shave that long beard and have a read. What seemingly started as an oddity, as many good beer experiments go, has now become a mainstream yeast that has made homebrewing accessible in areas of the country, i.e. desert communities, where homebrewing without temperature controls was previously impossible. Additionally, while homebrewers in our country’s northern latitudes have no problem cooling wort to “normal” yeast pitching ranges, doing that on an August day in Southern California can be challenge with just a garden hose and coil chiller. This is where kveik becomes a reliable friend.
Kveik refers to the various strains of yeast that have been used to make farmhouse styles ales in Norway for generations. The term “kveik” is the Norwegian word translated “yeast” in English and it refers to various strains of brewing yeast. Each strain is unique, with many noted for being able to ferment “hot and fast” without imparting odd or off-putting flavors. In fact, some strains such as Hornindal are known for imparting intense tropical flavors, perfect for IPA’s and such. When I say “hot and fast”, I mean it! While Norway is known for its frigid temperatures, this yeast ferments at ridiculously high temperatures. For some reason, I envision intrepid Nordic brewers making batches of farmhouse ale while sitting in their steam saunas, smacking themselves with juniper branches, but I digress.
My first ever batch of beer made with kveik was a straightforward SMASH recipe I named “The Kveik Geek”. I am horrible at saving brewing logs sheets, but I do recall from memory that I used a BIAB process with about 10 pounds of 2-row pale malt, 3 oz of Amarillo hop additions and Omega Hornindal (OYL-091) yeast.
While I may not recall the exact recipe, I do recall the trepidation I encountered as I poured the yeast into the “hot” wort at an astounding (at the time) 87 degrees.
With a “pour out” for the beer spirits…I waited. In 3 “fast” hours, I was fermenting! In 4 “fast” days, I was bottling. A week after bottling, I took a few bottles to my local homebrew club and introduced these people to their first foray into the kveik world.
The beer was clean, non-phenolic, and was the perfect summer “lawn mower” beer. It was a great feeling to receive thumbs up from people that knew their stuff when it comes to brewing.
Since that time, I have brewed several different ales with various strains of kveik, some pitched at temperatures as high as 95 degrees! I have found them fast fermenting and clean tasting, each with its own slightly different flavor profile. When Omega introduced their Lutra brand of kveik yeast, they marketed it as being able to brew a pseudo-lager. Well, me being a brewer with a fermentation temperature control chamber that consists of the tile counter in my kid’s bathroom, I had to give it a go. I was floored, not literally as it was only about 4.7ABV, but the flavor profile was close to a lager style without the brew having to spend 6 months in a German cave or a converted Whirlpool fridge.
So if you are like me and live in a climate where temperature controls are non-existent, or, like me have the patience of a lightbulb flash and want your brew done, I highly suggest you give the kveik yeasts a shot. Numerous strains are available from all of the major yeast companies so there is no limit to the number of combinations of styles you can brew.
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