Of all the core ingredients of beer, yeast is the least understood. Water quality, hop characteristic and barley type/toast are at the forefront of a brewer’s – and drinker’s – mind. But yeast has mostly been a binary box-ticking exercise: choose either top fermenting yeasts (aka Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used for ale) or the bottom fermenting yeasts (aka Saccharomyces pastorianus, used in lager).
Historically, little credence has been given to its impact on flavour and form. But now yeast is proving to be the final frontier of brewing, nudging beer into bold new territory, with spontaneous fermentation becoming common practice alongside the farmhouse and saison styles utilising wild yeasts (including those spiced and soured by Brettanomyces).
Much like the rising popularity of sourdough breads and natural wines with spontaneous ferments, these folkish brews are as old as the elixir itself.
The conundrum for most contemporary brewers meddling with these styles lies in their unpredictability. Complicating matters further is the nigh-on-impossible task of somehow maintaining stable production and delivering a core range, while keeping craft beer acolytes frothing with small-batch experimental brews.
Enter kveik, an ancient farmhouse Norwegian style of beer brewed from an heirloom brewing yeast (think your grandma’s old and slightly ominous sourdough leaven) that can produce refreshing and complex ales in as little as 40 hours – that’s a week or two shorter than most popular ales on the market today.
Kveik came close to dying out in recent years, with Norwegian farmers leaving the land in droves and most brewers moving to commercial yeast strains to keep pace with the rest of the world.
Fortunately some cultures were preserved – namely the Voss strain, thanks to brewer Sigmund Gjernes – and as of 2019, they’ve been available to small-batch brewers worldwide.
Along with kveik’s rapid-fire turnaround, the strain’s other party trick is that it can endure sweltering temperatures where most others go perfectly troppo – up to 40°C or higher – and it can continue to not only survive, but thrive in alcohol levels well above 10%.
What’s more astonishing is that the beer brews crisp, clear and fresh, unlike any other hot and rapidly fermented ales, which invariably end up mulchy, unstable and limp.
Kveik’s aromatics can swing anywhere from pomegranate to orange and traditionally many brews were spiced with berries or herbs. A good example is the HaandBryggeriet Norwegian Wood Smoked Ale (haandbryggeriet.no), enigmatically accented with wild juniper berries and now available in specialist Australian craft beer stores.
Brewers across this sunburnt land have been quick to take up the kveik cause, with Bright Brewery (brightbrewery.com.au) in Victoria’s high country laying the threshing-floor with its recently released King Kveik Norwegian Ale (5.9%), notable for its juicy orange palate piqued with hints of myrtle and marjoram.
Wayward Brewing (wayward.com.au) in Sydney’s inner west has also put kveik to the kiln, producing an IPA-style that sprints from tank to off-license in a staggering seven days flat. The Kveik to Market IPA transcends with pine-tingling freshness and plenty of late-hop aromatics, clocking in at a heady 6.5%.
Mash Brewing (mashbrewing.com.au) in Perth’s Swan Valley has similarly corralled kveik yeast (this time the Loki strain) into a contemporary style of IIPA that could seduce even the most loyal of NEIPA drinkers.
The Techno Viking Kveik IIPA is bursting with apricot and peach characteristics, but with a solid malt backbone to support its upfront shock-and-awe. Just don’t be fooled by its seemingly innocent ‘juicy’ appeal – this beer clocks in at a whopping 8%. Keep an eye out for it in cans at your favourite craft beer haunt.
As breweries struggle to consolidate, juggling demand, supply, tank space, temperature control and innovation, kveik is destined to become a mainstay of Australian brewing, particularly in brewpubs and taprooms nationwide. It’s fresh, fruity, hardy and rewarding. And fast. Did we mention fast?
Dust off your drinking horns: the Vikings are coming.