Microbreweries around the world want Norwegian yeast. Kveik is not like other yeasts, and scientists and yeast producers are now working to get it onto the global market.
Currently, it can be purchased in twelve countries. “It wasn’t until November last year that we managed to produce dry yeast for the first time”, says Øystein Bakken Vold.
He is the founder and managing director of Kveik Yeastery. The tradition comes from Western Norway, the factory is located in Brumunddal and the market is global.
Kveik is a rare Norwegian ingredient that is sought after all over the world. It is primarily small and medium-sized breweries that currently want it. But Vold and his collaborators – scientists at Nofima – want to use it more in baking as well.
Little grain, different yeast
Bjørn Roth is a senior scientist at Nofima during working hours and a beer enthusiast in his spare time. He explains that it is the scarcity of grain in Norway that makes the yeast tradition stand out from other beer-drinking countries.
“There are a number of beer traditions in Europe. What they have in common is that they have had access to grain. That is why they have always had a yeast culture on the go, which means they have been able to brew a steady flow of beer. Production has been continuous”, says Roth.
When it has been possible to brew all the time, the yeast never becomes dry. “In Norway, on the other hand, we haven’t had a culture of brewing beer continuously, because we are a country with little grain”, he said.
Over the centuries, Norwegian brewers have therefore needed a yeast that can withstand drying out between each brew. At the same time, the yeast has had to be ready to be used quickly.
“The times we have brewed beer, it has been for gatherings like funerals or weddings. Both of which can occur without much warning”, Bjørn Roth states.
Moreover, it has been too cold in Norway to brew the European way, with a room temperature of around 20 degrees. “Instead, we have used smokehouses, where they were heated up to around 30-40 degrees Celsius. We were then able to brew in just three days. If we had used European yeast to brew so quickly, it would have tasted horrendous”, explains the senior scientist.
Survived in the west
Kveik is the result of this climate and these traditions. It has survived in Hardanger, Indre Sogn and Sunnmøre. A few years ago, it was rediscovered.
“It is now one of the big hypes for microbreweries in the United States. ‘Norwegian farmhouse ale’ is defined as a separate style. Norwegians haven’t quite realised yet that we have our own beer that is getting international attention”, says Roth.
In addition to a good, fruity taste that makes the beer stand out from others, breweries can increase their production if they use kveik.
“The fact that it allows the beer to ferment very quickly means that a microbrewery can easily double or triple its production. At the same time, they get a very fruity beer, and every kveik has its own taste”, says Bjørn Roth. He likes to refer to kveik as ‘our family heirloom’.
Spreading the family heirloom
Right now, Øystein Bakken Vold is leading the way in managing and spreading this family heirloom. He is the managing director of Kveik Yeastery, which uses the research to spread the Norwegian yeast culture.
“We conducted a preliminary project together with Nofima in which we characterised some old Norwegian yeasts”, he says. This involved fermentation temperature, taste and aroma. The preliminary project has now become a larger project that looks at efficiency, stability and other applications: Baking, distilling and production of bioethanol as fuel.
“Kveik has been used in baking for centuries. They used the yeast they had for both baking and brewing. Åpent Bakeri has now joined us in the project”, says Vold.
Pasteur and Carlsberg
Previously, he ran a shop that sold ingredients and equipment for brewing. It was the customers who convinced him that kveik was something to focus on.
“We saw that it is an amazing yeast. You can produce beer in two to three days, compared to ten to fourteen days when using other industrial yeast. We saw that it had great potential if we managed to get things in place, and now we have spent four years and launched the first products in January”, he says.
Louis Pasteur — the same scientist who gave his name to pasteurisation — was the first to find out that yeast is made up of living cells. In the late 1800s, Danish Carlsberg became the first brewery in the world to isolate a yeast cell and use only one variety of yeast in its production. That means you get a very stable product. The yeast that you can buy in the store is also just one type of yeast.
Kveik, on the other hand, contains several types of yeast. It is called a multi strain.
“When yeast production became industrial and yeast could be bought in stores, people didn’t need to keep yeast at home themselves. It is not an easy thing to produce, and it can turn sour and spoil. A great deal of yeast disappeared, but many farms in Western Norway continued traditional brewing using a copper kettle on an open flame. A father passed the yeast on to his son. This means that these yeast strains have survived for centuries”, says Øystein Bakken Vold.
Kveik Yeastery now has five different yeast varieties on sale. The bags clearly state that this is Norwegian kveik, and the different varieties are named according to where they originate from.
In parallel with the research, the factory is trying to expand. “The challenge for us is that we are the only yeast producer in Norway. There is a lack of expertise when it comes to yeast”, says Vold.
Describing the taste
Nofima scientist Lars Axelsson is the microbiologist in the kveik project. “When Kveik Yeastery dries the yeast, it is important that it is the same every single time. Among other things, we will use genetic methods to make sure that it remains stable”, he says.
And not least, Nofima ensures that the taste is correct. The research institute has its own sensory panel – professional tasters who are trained to notice the differences between nuances and describe exactly what they taste. “The most important contribution is that Kveik Yeastery gets a spectrum of characteristics that they can use in their marketing”, says Axelsson.
He explains that the special thing that Kveik Yeastery does is to keep the original mix of yeast strains in each individual kveik. It is the mix itself that gives each kveik its special characteristics and provides a sales advantage compared to other suppliers who have isolated individual strains from kveik.
“The kveik used has survived because it is good and stable when dried, and because it is well suited to the special way Norwegian farms have brewed beer”, says Lars Axelsson.
Facts about the OriginalKveik project
- Kveik – original Norwegian farm yeast: Innovative product development including brewing characteristics, product stability and potential new applications.
- Parters: Kveik Yeastery, Haandbryggeriet, Åpen Bakeri, Det Norske Brenneri, Nofima, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences.
- Funded by the Research Council of Norway through the IPN programme (Innovation Project for the Industrial Sector), together with contributions from the companies.