Good Beer Hunting

Mother of Invention

A Fire Being Kindled — The Revolutionary Story of Kveik, Norway’s Extraordinary Farmhouse Yeast

Western Norway makes more sense on a mythic register than in real life. Conventional understandings of physics need to bend to allow its snow-capped peaks and glass-blue fjords and troll-tongue promontories to fit within the same frame. It could be a 19th-century, Romantic-with-a-capital-R painting come to life. It could be the setting for a fairy tale.

If you believe that extraordinary places beget extraordinary beings, then kveik starts to make sense. Like its homeland, kveik—a family of Norwegian farmhouse yeast, only recently known to the mainstream brewing community—feels supranatural. It ferments at speeds that should be impossible, for one thing, and has the ability to thrive in near-blistering temperatures. If not quite immortal, it can still emerge from crumbled desiccation into vigorous, bubbling life after decades of dormancy. It tastes like digging your nails into the skin of a juice-filled tangerine, or standing under a laden mango tree. It behaves dramatically unlike any other brewing yeast.

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No one knows exactly how long ago kveik (FYI: it’s pronounced “kvike,” not “kveek”) rose out of the glacier-scoured valleys. But we do know that Norwegians have been brewing since misty prehistory, and that, to no one’s surprise, vikings had a taste for beer. Historically, brewing only occurred a few times per year, as the region’s bare, rocky turf never did yield much grain, which meant that beer was reserved for special occasions: weddings, visiting kings, the purchasing of fine horses. As recently as the last century, farmers still sacrificed glasses of beer to the spirit who, they believed, lived in the hearth.

In just the last five years, kveik’s story arc has shifted. From isolated Norwegian farmsteads, the yeast has spread everywhere from neighborhood brewpubs to the world’s most prominent breweries to notable yeast banks. From the knife-edge of extinction, it has reached a new, global ascendency. And it has done so mostly because one man saw it for what it was, and knew that it had to be rescued.

Lars Marius Garshol is not a celebrity. He is an unassuming software engineer, with glasses and a toothy grin, who lives with his family on the outskirts of Oslo. But if you spend any time on homebrewing forums, or if you keep tabs on the beer world’s shiniest innovations, chances are you know his name. 

For a long time, Garshol was an enthusiastic beer drinker, if a typical one. But one fateful Christmas, he received a book from his wife about traditional Nordic beer. One chapter was devoted to Lithuanian farmhouse brewing, which sparked Garshol’s curiosity, and so he visited the Baltic country, and then returned again, and again. In 2014, he wrote and self-published his first beer book: Lithuanian Beer: A Rough Guide

Seeing farmhouse brewing traditions up close opened something in his mind—a new understanding that the beer world could be divided cleanly into halves. There was, on one side, industrial beer: the macro players and the established craft brewers; anyone who operated with modern technology and equipment and know-how. On the other side, there were the farmhouse brewers, who brewed for themselves, according to tradition, with the tools and ingredients they had at hand—and they were already almost gone.

What we found on that trip was a shock of such proportions that it permanently altered the course of my life.
— Lars Marius Garshol, Larsblog

Garshol began to perceive the outlines of what had once existed. The few farmhouse brewers he encountered, scattered and time-lost, were among the last descendants of a tradition that had once spanned the Eurasian landmass. And that’s about the time that an inkling, coupled with rumors and half-memories, turned his attention back to his homeland.

In the early 2010s, even if you were a Norwegian beer enthusiast like Garshol, you probably hadn’t heard of kveik, and you wouldn’t have known that Norway’s remote, oceanic west fostered one of Europe’s last-remaining, uninterrupted pockets of farmhouse brewing, one that had somehow escaped the ravages of modern industry. But a vague recollection of his grandfather’s homemade beers had floated to the top of Garshol’s mind, and an off-hand comment his uncle made about local brewers was cause enough to book a trip.

In 2014, Garshol visited western Norway with Canadian beer writer Martin Thibault. Their itinerary took them hundreds of miles up the coast, through valleys and past glacial lakes. When they weren’t eating whole sheep heads, they attended brew days at local farms.

“What we found on that trip was a shock of such proportions that it permanently altered the course of my life,” Garshol wrote in a follow-up blog post. “It wasn't even just one shock. One surprise was how much of the ancient tradition that was still alive. Another surprise was the depth of it, because it wasn't just the beer itself that was still alive, but also the social customs around it, the old ways of serving beer, and even some of the superstition. But the biggest surprise was how good the beer was, and how different the beers were.”

Garshol hadn’t known what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t kveik. He had never seen yeast behave so resiliently. It began to ferment within minutes of pitching, was happily active at 102° Fahrenheit (39° Celsius), and smelled, in one instance, like orange and gingerbread. (Consider that typical ale yeast ferments between 68–72 °F (20–22 °C), and takes hours to begin bubbling away.) And the beer that was made from it—brewed in an 18th-century, copper kettle, infused with freshly cut juniper branches—was a compex, amber-hued confection. Even more miraculously: it had no phenolic or fusel alcohol off-flavors, despite those extreme conditions.

After that trip, “I came back convinced that here was a beer culture deserving international recognition and a place alongside the more famous beer cultures that we all know,” he wrote. “It really surprised and upset me that something so rich and important could be totally unknown not just abroad, but also in Norway. As Martin put it, ‘This isn't exactly the Congo!’ You can visit these brewers and taste these beers without hacking your way through the jungle for weeks. Some are literally within a taxi ride or a short train ride from the nearest international airport.”

Garshol and Thibault weren’t the first outsiders to visit western Norway’s brewers, as it happens—legendary English beer writer Michael Jackson had explored the region back in 1993. But from that trip onwards, kveik became uniquely central to Garshol’s existence. 

He visited dozens more farmhouse brewers in western Norway; he collected yeast samples (or solicited them by mail); he sent vials of slurry to the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich, U.K. He also documented his trips on Larsblog, which became, for brewers and drinkers around the world, a rare portal into the region. Reading through his posts from 2014 and 2015 feels akin to flicking through an 18th-century explorer’s logbook: there is the same mixture of bafflement and elation, the dawning understanding of the magnitude of his discovery.

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“The thing that got me hooked [on kveik] to begin with was the flavor,” Garshol tells GBH. “And then what really got me into it was this sense of a huge base of unknown stuff. When you started digging, like the more you go, the more you found—almost everything was like, ‘Oh my god. Oh wow. Is it possible? Oh wow.’ For years, basically just uninterrupted stuff like that.”

Garshol began to catalog his findings in a farmhouse yeast registry. Today, it is still the most complete kveik database that’s readily available to members of the public. In addition to documenting each culture’s vital stats—attenuation, pitching temperatures, maximum ABV—it also includes origin stories.

“Dagfinn's yeast went bad a couple of years ago, so he got new yeast from Per Hjermann at the farm Stødno in Lærdal,” one entry says. “Rivenes says he got the yeast from relatives who ran the farm before him, and that they in turn got it from his grandpa. Before that he doesn't know,” reads another.

Though cultures and recipes varied from farmstead to farmstead, Garshol began to notice commonalities in the way that kveik was employed. Most kveik cultures were dehydrated between brewing sessions—typically by spreading a thin layer of the yeast on a baking sheet, and leaving it to dry out in an oven or airless cellar before crumbling it into a Ziploc bag and placing it in the freezer. The bulk of the recipes featured scant amounts of hops, though they did use significant quantities of juniper branches, which were infused in the brewing water to impart cleansing properties and flavor, and later used as a natural filter to separate wort from grain. And the kveik was pitched at scaldingly hot temperatures—anywhere from 86–108° Fahrenheit (30–42° Celsius).

Virtually all of the beers were made using equipment that was either traditional or ad hoc: copper kettles and plastic tubs, garden hoses and saucepans, plus the occasional kveik ring or kveikstokk—notched, wooden implements that are dunked into the yeast after brewing and hung to dry, so they can be used to inoculate the next batch.

There’s a tendency to see anything that eschews modernity as naive, or rudimentary. In the case of kveik, there’s a genius in the way that Norway’s farmhouse brewers have learned and passed on their craft. “This, by the way, is a recurring feature in farmhouse brewing. The brewers keep doing things that superficially appear weird, or even detrimental to the beer. On closer examination, however, it nearly always turns out that there are very good reasons for what they do,” Garshol wrote

Brewers might not measure their water’s heat, but they know it’s right by feel. (Some historical records, in fact, describe the ideal temperature as “milk-warm,” referring to the temperature at which milk leaves a cow’s udder). Hops aren’t used in great enough quantities to impart much flavor, though they do guard against bacterial infection. If brewers’ cultures sour, they might not know which bacteria is at fault, but they do know to source fresh kveik cultures from a neighbor. In this manner, kveik has persisted through the centuries, selected and shaped over time.

“There's so many things that we rely on as crutches as brewers that, if you have an unbroken brewing tradition, there's so much learned experience that can replace that,” says Richard Preiss, a microbiologist who co-founded Guelph, Ontario’s Escarpment Laboratories in 2013, and who has collaborated extensively with Garshol. “If you know exactly how much water you need to mix with your malt to hit the right temperature every time, then you don't really need a thermometer. But if you know your yeast is going to work every time, why do you need to do a cell count? There's all of these things that, simply because of the unbroken tradition, and simply because of experience, they don't necessarily need to measure.”

Attending a brew day at a Norwegian farmhouse can feel like visiting a living-history museum; ultimately, the way beer is brewed is still dictated by ritual. One atavistic tradition that persists among select brewers is the gjærkauk, or “yeast scream”—the practice of yelling into the kettle as the yeast is pitched—which supposedly originated as a way to scare off malevolent spirits.

Imagine brewing clean and balanced beers in the Deep South during the summer without temperature control. I think that we are truly on the edge of a brewing revolution.
— DeWayne Schaaf, Kveik World Order

Another relates to mashing in. “I remember the first time I was doing the mashing and stirring the malt, and my father, he realized that I was doing it the wrong way,” says Yngve Gjernes, son of Sigmund Gjernes, the first brewer Garshol visited back in 2014. “You're supposed to stir it the same way as the sun goes, and I was doing it the wrong way, and that would bring bad luck to the brew. So it's a lot of superstition.” 

Some rituals, meanwhile, have lapsed into the bygone.

“Historically, western Norway had a strong superstition against women in the brewhouse, so the brewers were all male. Eastern Norway was completely different, at least in the 19th and 20th centuries,” says Garshol. “I don’t think anyone believes in that stuff any more, but there are people alive who remember people who took it seriously. I’ve heard several stories about it.” Today, the vast majority of farmhouse brewers who work with kveik are still men, though Gjernes knows several women who have inherited the brewing mantle from their fathers.

“It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that people regarded beer as something holy,” Garshol said during an appearance on Milk the Funk’s podcast. Those who have come into contact with kveik more recently approach it with nearly as much reverence.

Despite the traits and approaches that unite kveik cultures and brewing techniques, the yeast is far from monolithic. Each family’s kveik is unique. Each kveik is also, technically, a mixed culture, composed of multiple yeast strains plus, in some cases, Lactobacillus bacteria. Beyond what Garshol has mapped, no one knows quite how many kveik cultures are in existence. There are also multiple brewing regions to contend with, each with their approaches and beer styles.

“[O]ne thing that stands out is the huge variety in techniques and ingredients,” Garshol wrote of Norwegian farmhouse brewing. “People brew according to tradition, but tradition is a living thing, and changes all the time. There are regional variations, but there are also big variations within each region. It's a bit like grandmas making meatballs: none of them follow exact recipes, and they all have their personal twists. So making a clear, overall picture is really tricky.” 

There are several major regions in Norway where established farmhouse brewing traditions still exist. There is Voss, located just east of Bergen. The beer here, sometimes known as Vossaøl, is fermented with kveik, which, in this part of Norway, tends to taste vividly of Christmas: think orange peels and sweet spices. Preparation varies among families, but Vossaøl wort undergoes a long boil (typically between three and four hours, and up to six or seven hours) until it is diminished by almost half. Though it is made from pale, unsmoked malts, this technique produces a deep, plummy amber ale, rich with caramelized, burnt-sugar notes.

For me at least, using this yeast is looking down the barrel of history. These are how yeasts would look before Pasteur and Hansen perfected yeast isolation.
— James Torr, homebrewer

There is also Hornindal, farther north along the coast near Ålesund, where Kornøl is made. Most, but not all, Kornøl is “råøl,” or “raw ale,” which means that the wort is not boiled after lautering. The result often looks thick and milky, with a heavy protein content that’s detectable in its tongue-coating mouthfeel. Jostedalsbreen, Continental Europe’s largest glacier, cleaves Hornindal from Voss; perhaps as a result, the kveik here is notably distinct. It produces flavors of pineapple and mango, and sometimes caramel, or even mushrooms. (Some cultures also contain lactic-acid bacteria, though sour beer is reviled by most local brewers.)

It’s kind of funny to think of 19th-century Norwegian farmers, buried in snowbanks, drinking hazy beer that tastes like tropical fruit they would have otherwise never encountered. It’s even funnier to think that they could have accidentally invented a Hazy IPA lookalike, several-hundred years early.

Finally, there is Stjørdal, farther north still near Trondheim, where malts are smoked over alder wood. The resulting beer is known as Maltøl, or Stjørdalsøl, and it ranges widely in terms of process and flavor, but is generally profoundly smoky, with some fruity or toffee notes. The region’s kveik is thought to have been lost several decades ago, and most brewers either use bread yeast from the supermarket or yeast borrowed from a local Lager brewery, though kveik is making its slow return. Beyond those three, broad regions, there are still farmhouses brewing according to tradition elsewhere across the country, and scores more are likely toiling in the wilderness, as yet unmapped.

By 2015, Larsblog’s reach had extended well beyond Garshol’s local brewing circles. One devoted, early reader was Richard Preiss, who had recently founded Escarpment Laboratories on the other side of the Atlantic. He was astonished by Garshol’s chronicles of fantastical yeasts that supposedly thrived in the kinds of extreme scenarios that would obliterate other strains. But he also wanted to see what kveik could do up close.

“I had reached out to him a few times. It definitely took a few attempts for me to prove that we're worth sending some samples to, and fair enough, I think he probably still deals with a lot of people that want to try to get materials from him,” Preiss says. “Eventually, I said, ‘Listen, here are our scientific capabilities. We want to do some kind of work here. We think these yeasts are interesting and that someone should be doing some research.’”

Garshol packed up eight different kveik cultures that he had collected during his travels, some in liquid slurry, some in dry flakes. “I take two of these flakes. I put them in some growth media, essentially, spin it up, let it rehydrate, and then leave it, go for lunch,” Preiss recalls. “I come back 40 minutes later and it's fermenting. Just—that's not normal for dried yeast. That was the first thing that we saw that suggested, oh, maybe there's something here.”

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Today, Preiss and Garshol have an ongoing, professional partnership. Escarpment Labs now sells four purified kveik strains. (However, working from around 30 mixed cultures, they have banked more than 200.) The two have also collaborated on kveik research. Traditional Norwegian Kveik Are a Genetically Distinct Group of Domesticated Saccharomyces cerevisiae Brewing Yeasts, their peer-reviewed paper that was also co-authored by Caroline Tyrawa, Kristoffer Krogerus, and George van der Merwe, was published in Frontiers of Microbiology in September 2018. 

The study characterized “kveik yeasts from 9 different Norwegian sources via PCR fingerprinting, whole genome sequencing of selected strains, phenotypic screens, and lab-scale fermentations.” Those tests revealed that kveik in fact belongs to the Beer 1 family of brewer’s yeasts (which includes most top-fermenting beer yeast varieties), and that it forms its own, distinct branch on that tree.

Though images of farmhouses and old-fashioned brewing techniques might conjure associations with wildness, it turns out that kveik is regular, old Saccharomyces cerevisiae after all. Its abilities, while unique, are a sign of domestication. Beer was brewed hot, so kveik developed to flourish in heat. Beer was drunk shortly after brewing, and so kveik attained quickness. Owing to lack of resources, brew days were infrequent at best, and so kveik learned how not to die during months, or years, of barrenness. Practical, human decisions are what have rendered kveik extraordinary.

Preiss and his team note, however, that kveik does differ from other top-fermenting beer yeast, in that it appears to be the result of a Beer 1 yeast mating with an unknown, possibly wild, yeast. At this stage, the specifics of its parentage remain one of kveik’s major mysteries.

Escarpment Labs was an early kveik specialist, but today, it has company. Omega Yeast, based in Chicago, carries several kveik strains, while Mainiacal Yeast Labs, headquartered in Pittsfield, Maine, sells a rotating array of kveik cultures to both homebrewers and commercial brewers.

“We are basically pumping out [kveik cultures] at max capacity while maintaining all our orders,” says Mainiacal Yeast Labs founder Justin Amaral. “As far as I know, we have the most kveik strains available from U.S. labs. We also offer the full culture, and do not remove any microbes from it, as most of them are mixed cultures.”

Amaral sources his strains from Norway-based brewer Svein Arild Skjaeveland. The two also contribute to Kveik World Order, a website and Facebook group that was founded by DeWayne Schaaf, who brews at Ebb and Flow Fermentations in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The men had previously connected on Milk the Funk, an online brewing community that has been instrumental in spreading interest in kveik around the globe.

“Milk the Funk has gone rabid about kveik,” says Schaaf. “I've been a member of the group for four-plus years, and in the past eight months it has nearly become a kveik group.” 

Schaaf’s impetus in founding Kveik World Order was to spread “the kveik word across North America and beyond,” according to his Twitter bio. In addition to writing blog posts about his brewing experiments, Schaaf also ships cultures directly to brewers. So far, he says that he has sent upwards of 250 shipments to recipients in every continent except Antarctica. His interest is all the more noteworthy considering he has never visited Norway, and, until recently, had only tried kveik-fermented beers he had made himself.

“I only see the usage of kveik increasing exponentially over the next decade,” he says. “It has an incredible set of traits that only make sense for both homebrewers and commercial brewers alike. Imagine brewing clean and balanced beers in the Deep South during the summer without temperature control. I think that we are truly on the edge of a brewing revolution.” 

As with most brewing trends, kveik caught on first among homebrewers, who thrilled at its flexibility and versatility. “The main thing I think people are interested in is the flavor profile that the yeast brings to fermentations,” says U.K.-based homebrewer James Torr, who has experimented with a variety of kveik cultures. “This is highly varied, and often very complementary to a huge variety of styles. It's a really easy yeast to manage as well.”

You have something that has been removed from its traditional context and which does have some commercial value and that can create tension if the people who it derives from aren’t properly recognized or compensated.
— Richard Preiss, Escarpment Laboratories

It doesn’t hurt that kveik has a romantic edge. “For me at least, using this yeast is looking down the barrel of history,” says Torr. “These are how yeasts would look before Pasteur and Hansen perfected yeast isolation.”

Now, the world’s biggest commercial yeast labs are catching on. In April, White Labs launched a new kveik strain: WLP518 Opshaug Kveik Ale Yeast. Sourced by Garshol and isolated from a mixed culture belonging to Harald Opshaug, a farmhouse brewer in Stranda, Norway, it was used traditionally for Kørnol. White Labs describes it as “a neutral, hop-forward strain making it an ideal choice for cleaner beer styles that you can ferment at higher temperatures,” and is making it available to both commercial brewers and homebrewers through the White Labs Vault and the Vault for Homebrewers. 

White Labs president and CEO Chris White says he’ll be keeping a close eye on the strain’s success.

“It could take a while for people to notice as it grows outside of the homebrewing community, so what will really be interesting is seeing whether the public, on a commercial level, wants to drink [beers made with kveik]. Something can rise really quickly but doesn’t always stick...others stick around ’cause consumers like them, which obviously happened with IPAs and Hazy and maybe Brut.” 

While most mainstream consumers have yet to encounter kveik, brewers around the world have pounced on it with a rare fervor. From Australia to Britain, Brazil to the United States, they’ve found unique applications for the yeast that are guided as much by its vibrant, ester-led flavor profiles as its practical advantages.

“We've brewed everything from Saison-like recipes, to German Lager-like beers, to tons of classic English styles, and many experimental, culinary-type beers,” says Schaaf. “One was a Bière de Garde with garam masala, another was with beets and thyme, and yet another was with a variety of Middle Eastern peppers and carob syrup. We've also played with souring and making mixed-fermentation beers with kveik.”

In the U.K., breweries such as Harbour Brewing Co. in Cornwall and Vault City Brewing in Edinburgh have been among the first to experiment with kveik. Jonny Hamilton, who heads up Beavertown’s Tempus Project, also recalls a memorable, early encounter with the yeast.

“The first thing that blew my mind was the speed and ferocity at which the wort fermented,” he says. “The noise from the side arm of the [fermentation vessel] sounded as if there was a demon in the tank, grumbling and moaning. The second surprising element was touching the fermenter and it being warmer than my body temperature, which is not something you often experience in brewing.”

In the U.S., breweries like Almanac Beer Co. and Alvarado Street Brewery have recently released kveik IPAs and Double IPAs, while Utah-based Shades Brewing Co. won a gold medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival with Kveik 1, a Golden Sour Ale that was dry-hopped with Nelson Sauvin and made using several kveik strains. 

Chris Cohen, a partner at San Francisco beer bar Old Devil Moon, organized a kveik event during February’s San Francisco Beer Week, which he said attracted a record number of attendees. “I'm working to be a pied piper for kveik strains out here in the Bay Area—doing collab beers with pros and generally working to convince everyone to give it a try,” he says. 

According to Cohen, the beer world’s fascination with kveik is still in its early stages. “My educated guess, having tasted many dozens of kveik-fermented ales...is that it most definitely will become the norm for craft brewers to use kveik for much of their brewing,” he says. “I believe it is inevitable that kveik strains will eventually replace U.S., West Coast, [and] Vermont ale yeast strains as the most popular yeast choice for pro brewers all over the world.”

While many contemporary brewers forgo kveik’s original context, some are trying to balance innovation and tradition. Eik & Tid—whose name translates to “Oak and Time”—is an Oslo-based brewery that was founded by Amund Polden Arnesen and Bjørn Harald Færøvik in 2016, and which mingles admiration for farmhouse brewing with modern sensibilities.

Like Garshol, Arnesen had a similar kveik-based awakening during an early trip to western Norway, which he describes as “full of these jaw-dropping moments.” He wanted to use kveik at his brewery, but he didn’t want to “try to make a poor, commercial imitation” of traditional styles.

“We combined this fascination for Norwegian farmhouse beers with our fascination for foreign, wild beer. Both traditional Belgian stuff, and also, the more modern, American craft way of doing it,” he says. “So, we took the cultures from Hornindal, which we knew contained lactic bacteria. Or, some sort of souring bacteria. And, instead of drinking the beer fresh, like they did, drinking it after 48 hours, we started experimenting to see what happens if we keep this. What happens if you put this in a barrel? Leave it for a few months? And, we discovered that these kveik strains made amazing sour beer.”

There are regional variations, but there are also big variations within each region. It’s a bit like grandmas making meatballs: none of them follow exact recipes, and they all have their personal twists.
— Lars Marius Garshol, Larsblog

Eik & Tid’s hand-built brewery is specifically set up for raw ale, and is made from repurposed dairy tanks. The beer is aged, solera-style, in foeders and barrels. Because of its exceptionally high protein content (Arnesen likens it to a German Weissbier “times 50”), the finished product is milky in consistency. During the long aging process, some of those abundant proteins are also broken down by enzymatic activity from the bacteria and yeast, which produces amino acids—including glutamic acid, which imparts a subtly savory note to certain beers.

“By taking inspiration from something old, and using it in a new way, we kind of feel like we're actually doing something different in a scene where everything's been done,” Arnesen says.

Beyond its capacity for novelty, kveik is also a useful tool. Given its ability to thrive in extreme temperatures, it holds great promise for brewers who are working in warming climates. “The applications are kind of amazing. I mean, there are people in Laos and Thailand using Voss Kveik, 'cause it can ferment at 39° C [102° F] and make great beer,” says Arnesen.

Kveik’s speed could also be used by breweries as a money-saving gambit. A New England IPA made with a Hornindal kveik wouldn’t taste radically different from one brewed with Vermont ale yeast, and it could be ready in half the time. “As a brewery grows, the main kind of limitations that they have on their production is the size of the building,” says Garshol. “You can't have enough space for the fermenters. But if you can sell the beer after a week, suddenly your brewery can expand further without leaving the building.”

Some are even seeing what kveik is capable of beyond beer. “There are a lot of interesting properties that might lend it to other applications,” says Preiss. “One place that we've found that it can work really well is in distilling. We have a customer who makes whiskey with kveik yeast, and it's essentially everything they were looking for.”

While the mainstream brewing world is still in its first flush of kveik admiration, there is concern, in some corners, that taking yeast from its source without monetary compensation amounts to cultural pillaging.

“There are already undercurrents of this kind of thing happening because, in some ways, it is appropriation,” Preiss says. “You have something that has been removed from its traditional context and which does have some commercial value and that can create tension if the people who it derives from aren't properly recognized or compensated.”

Many farmhouse brewers would scoff to consider themselves “owners” of their kveik cultures—it would be like staking claim to the honeybees that pollinate their flowers—but that stance can leave them vulnerable to manipulation.

“The reality is that there are people profiting from these yeasts, and it's typically not the people they come from,” Preiss continues. “The question then is, how do you make the situation more fair? I think that a lot of this just came from a position of goodwill, but when you run into a situation where some kind of company is making a bunch of money from this, then that goodwill can quickly erode.” 

As a personal policy, Garshol names most of the kveiks listed on his registry after their respective sources—like Sigmund Kveik, or Rivenes Kveik—and he encourages others to use those names. Preiss notes that other European brewers have previously licensed their family strains to larger breweries or yeast labs. These tactics are a start, but further conversations will likely be necessitated down the line.

For now, opinions seem to be split on how kveik should be used by international brewers. “It would be really good to see people make more of the traditional beers because I think it's important to place these yeasts into their original context in addition to exploring what they can do in contemporary styles,” says Preiss. 

Gjernes, however, disagrees, and says he would prefer not to have “some international brewery making traditional beer from Voss. I love traditional beer from Norway. I would rather have some local brewery making that.”

These debates aside, Garshol notes that much of the work is still in convincing Norway’s farmhouse brewers that what they do has value at all. “A lot of these brewers are really, really isolated, and the people around them aren't necessarily very impressed with what they do. So I'm trying to show them, ‘Look, this is what people around the world think of your brewing. What you're doing is very important. You should be proud. You should convert other people in your area to brew like this.’ Because, you know, if they don't, it's gonna die.”

Garshol is busier than ever in his role as kveik’s unofficial ambassador. After writing a book about Norwegian farmhouse brewing, he will release a new, expansive work on European farmhouse brewing next year. He is also on the board of the Norsk Kornølfestival, which takes place every October in the Hornindal region, and which is one of the few major, annual events dedicated to kveik and farmhouse brewing. Lately, he has also traveled to Finland, and Russia, and other remote climes to learn more about their own obscure brewing traditions.

“Kveik is just the—how do you put it?—the tip of the iceberg,” says Garshol. “All the stuff that comes out of farmhouse brewing is a very, very big subject, where there's a lot the commercial brewer can learn. And this is just the beginning, in my opinion.”

Many people don’t realize that “kveik” actually has two meanings in western Norwegian dialects. One refers to the yeast itself. And one translates to “metaphorically breathing new life into something,” such as a fire being kindled. It’s almost too apt. 10 years ago, Norway’s last farmhouse brewers had nearly faded into obscurity. Now, their phoenixlike yeast has granted them a new immortality within the pages of brewing history.

Words by Claire Bullen
Illustrations by Ben Chlapek
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