Getting Started with Kveik
It’s not every day that major innovations come along for a practice as old as fermentation. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years you’ve probably heard of this monster yeast from Norway called “Kveik”. In this post we’ll look at what makes Kveik interesting in practical brewing terms.
What is it?
In essence Kveik is a family of folk yeasts that have been selectively bred to create an unbelievably performant style that ferments crazy-fast and super-clean at really high temperatures.
It’s not strictly true to say that Kveik (usually pronounced “Ke-vike” with a soft v) is new, considering it’s been used privately in the Norwegian farmhouse brewing culture for centuries. But for the most part these regional brewers remained isolated from the international brewing community until recently, when it was stumbled upon by contemporary brewer Lars Marius Garshol. These family yeasts have since been shared with the rest of us and are now available commercially.
But why is Kveik such a game-changer, especially for those of us in warmer climates? Let’s check out some of the remarkable properties of these impressive super yeasts.
Using Kveik means you can make great beer with less refrigeration. Here in Australia it’s unheard of to brew throughout summer without a fermentation fridge or cool basement and still expect good results. But Kveik thrives at temperatures up to 40°C/104°F (depending on the variety), which means you’ll likely be reaching for the heater instead of requiring a fridge. Kveik fermentation temperature has a huge range, usually somewhere between 25°C/77°F and 40°C/104°F, with 35°C/95°F (or “milk-warm”) often cited as ideal. Belt heaters and mat heaters may not get you up there on their own but a combination of them certainly will. Or maybe you already have a Kegmenter with a heating element and controller. Whatever your setup, if you aim for at least 25°C you’ll get fantastic results and they’ll only get better the closer you get to your Kveik’s ideal temperature (see manufacturer docs).
So depending on your circumstances this could be an energy saver, space saver as well as the next benefit: a timesaver.
Where regular yeasts might take seven to ten days to complete a fermentation, Kveik will take one to three days.
While other common yeasts such as Lallemand BRY-97, US-05 or Lallemand Diamond yeast may be able to ferment quickly at higher temperatures (against manufacturer advice) they do so with potential flavor consequences like banana-tasting esters or poor reliability. Stressing your yeast with high or inconsistent temperatures changes the way the cells produce and consume their byproducts. It can also impact their viability for harvesting and re-use. But Kveik takes higher temps like a champ and (after a much shorter lag-time) can completely finish a beer cleanly in as little as 24 hours, depending on the brew. Some Fermzilla owners are finding that it performs even better under pressure and there’s even brave folks pushing out lager-style beers in as little as two days.
Lower pitching rates
A low pitch rate of standard yeasts is often chalked up as the culprit for yeast stress, long lag times and stalled or incomplete ferments. But it can also be used intentionally to make a yeast’s character more assertive for beers such as Saisons and Belgians. But because Kveik varieties have the combination punch of ravenous activity and clean flavor profiles, using less of it isn’t a problem and is even preferred by some brewers to get more flavor out of it. A single 11g pouch of Lalbrew Voss Kveik Yeast can breeze through a double batch of 1.055 OG wort with no worries. It can also handle high gravity beers up to 12% abv with a single pouch and within only a few days(!).
Being a family of yeasts coming from all over Norway it’s not exactly simple to categorise or characterise Kveik as a single thing. The nature of the way it was used and bred means that it can be anything from just a high-performance saccharomyces cerevisiae (brewer’s yeast) to a blend of multiple strains, hybrids and bacteria, all with different characteristics. Once a Kveik is generously handed over to commercial labs for mass-production there’s even more variation, most opting to isolate single strains from what was originally a blend. They’re usually named after their municipal origin or the family name of the owners, such as “Voss”, “Hornindal”, “Lida” and so on and come in liquid and dried forms. Check out the store for more varieties and give one a go.
So, should you throw out all your vials, pouches and house yeasts and attempt every beer style on the planet with Kveik? No, probably not. There’s a diverse spectrum of fantastic yeasts for a reason; they all have their place and purpose, with different behaviours and flavours to suit all kinds of beer styles. But is there a place for fast fermenting, clean finishing and temperature tolerant yeasts? I think we can all agree that there is and it’s exciting that such a wonderful piece of regional brewing history has finally been shared with the rest of us.It’s hard to believe that such a disruptive tool has been laying dormant in the European countryside all this time. It makes you wonder what else could be hiding in the traditional brewhouses of the globe, waiting to come out?
For further reading on the topic check out Lars’ blog about all things Kveik here.