Kveik – It’s Advent Season!

The end of November is upon us, and for members of my homebrewing club this means one thing – our annual advent beer exchange. This year we had 25 brewers exchanging beers, which we will enjoy starting today and running through to December 24th. A much better advent calendar than those crummy chocolates!

My contribution to this years exchange is a Kveik, a Norweigian Farmhouse Ale, with a twist…my goal with this beer was to “reimagine” what the vikings who settled the north-east coast of Canada a millennium ago may have brewed. So in place of traditional Norweigian ingredients (juniper, European hops) I used instead spruce and wild hops native to Canada’s far north.

Recipe and various notes & ramblings can be found below the fold – I’ll post full tasting notes on the official day for my beer in the advent exchange.

Recipe and Brewing Notes

This beer is a tad…odd, and some ingredients may be hard to source. The key to this beer is the fermentation temperature – which is hot. And I’m not talking Belgian-hot, I’m talking “is this a fermenter or are we setting up for a clam bake” hot – 36 to 42C. I fermented at 36C and wish I had gone hotter. As my label said, my goal with this beer was to “reimagine” what the vikings who settled the north-east coast of Canada a millennia ago may have brewed. Because of this some of the ingredients may be hard to source – I’ve indicated alternatives for these.
Stats: OG: 1.068, FG: 1.006, ABV: 8%, IBU: 11
  • 98% Pilsner or other lightly killened malt
  • 2% Melanoidin malt
  • 9 IBU Canadian Redvine hops, 90 min (alternate: any high-cohumulone hop)
  • Irish Moss, 10 min
  • 1.25 g/L Canadian Redvine hops, 10 min (alternative: galena)
  • Kveik yeast (non-commercial strain sent to me by a homebrewer)
  • ~5 tsp Black spruce extract (alternatives discussed below)
Mash 3 hours at 69 C (no, those are not typos). Collect enough wort for a 90 min boil. Boil for 90 min, adding hops and irish moss as indicated. “Cool” to fermentation temperature (36-42C) and pitch the yeast. Hold at this temperature until krausen falls (~4 days), then cool at ~2C/day until you reach room temperature. Keg after 14 days, adding spruce extract to taste at kegging.
Black spruce extract is not made commercially, which I why I had a friend make it for me – she gathered some black spruce tips, threw them into a half-bottle of cheap vodka, and mailed that to me (along with the redvine hops, also native to her corner of Labrador). I strained it through a coffee filter and then used it as-is (probably ~10 days soaking in vodka by the time I got it). Black spruce can be found across much of Canada and in parts of the US, but many brew supply stores will carry white spruce extract which I think would be similar.

The traditional Norwegian Kveik is made using juniper branches in place of spruce – branches are seeped in the mash and sparge water to make a juniper “infusion” and the mash tun is also lined with branches as a sparge aid. In palce of spruce you could use juniper, but be careful as some of the ornamental junipers used in gardens are toxic. Culinary juniper berries are also an option, but apparently they give a very different flavour.

Random Thoughts

Although I’m planning on posting full tasting notes in a few weeks, there are a few comments on the beer that I can make now without ruining things. I have only two regrets with this beer – the first is that I did not ferment it warmer (I did 36C; 39-42C would have been better). The orange-like esters of the yeast were present, but could have been much stronger. The second is that I wish I had brewed it closer to the advent exchange. When it was fresh the distinct character of both the yeast and spruce were easily discernible, and gave a wonderful character similar to a spiced orange cookie. These flavours have mellowed and blended in the ~2 months since brew-day, and while the beer is still nice, it lacks those distinct flavour notes.

The strong orange character of the yeast is very intriguing, and unlike other beer yeasts, there are no notable off-flavours produced by this yeast at these high fermentation temperatures. I think this yeast may work well with dark malt beers – chocolate stouts in particular, potentially creating a beer similar to orange-infused chocolate. Others have had luck using Kveik yeast to emphasise the citrus nature of new-world hops; I actually attempted this with my Black Adder IPA, with some success, although once again my fear of high fermentation temperatures muted the character of the yeast.

More on Kveik

Kveik is relatively new to the North American brewing scene, but is a centuries (if not millennia) old tradition in Norway.A few Norwegian homebrewers have brought Kveik to the worlds attention, including performing some genetic analysis of the unusual yeast used in this beer (spoiler: its a hybrid of several Saccharomyces species). If you are interested in Kveik I’d suggest some of the following blog posts as places to start:
Lars Blog
Lars Garshol is the guru of Kveik, has written a book on Kveik (sadly, only available in Norwegian), and is a prolific writer about Kveik (and other northern-European farmhouse/rare beer styles). His blog – LarsBlog – is a cornucopia of information on Norwegian brewing, Kveik, and several other topics. Its a good blog to pursue, but some of the more standout articles on Kveik are:
Milk The Funk
As always, the milk the funk group (a closed facebook group) has been following Kveik with interest, ever since it came to our attention. While the group is closed (although gaining membership is easy), much of the main discussions we’ve had on Kveik is catalogued at the milk-the-funk wiki.

A short documentary (with English subtitles), following a brew-day, has been posted to Vimeo

Another similar video can be found on Youtube, but without any subtitles (its fun to watch)

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