Monday, November 4, 2019

Brewers harnessing Norwegian beast of a yeast

Seven Serpent from Armadillo Ale Works is one of many North Texas beers
fermented with a kveik yeast strain (Photo: © Brian Brown/Beer in Big D).

Local brewers are calling it a beast. It's fast, it's furious, and it has to potential to change the way local breweries make beer.

The subject is kveik, a family of Norwegian yeast cultures that seems otherworldly - especially in light of how it ferments beer unlike other yeasts in popular use today. And yet, it is of this earth. It's just that kveik's powers have only recently been revealed to modern brewers. This, after it was handed down for generations among homebrewers in Norway.

Among its abilities, kveik is a fast-starting yeast that ferments quickly and cleanly at high temperatures.

"I think the ideal temperature for most kveik is around 95 degrees Fahrenheit," says Bobby Mullins, head brewer and co-founder of Armadillo Ale Works. "It can fully ferment an imperial beer in three days with no off flavors."

Kveik settles out quickly as well, reducing maturation times and making beer ready to drink sooner.

So, what does this all mean? Simply put, kveik is capable of speeding up production while expending less energy, since temperature control (even in Texas!) is not as critical given the yeast's wide functional range - anywhere from 62 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit depending on strain (sources: Omega Yeast, White Labs).

Shifting to a consumer point of view, what's interesting about kveik is how its ester profile fits the industry's most popular style of beer. Commercially available strains feature a variety of citrus, stone and tropical fruit flavors. For that reason, consumers are likely to see kveik pop up in India pale ales (IPAs). In fact, IPAs fermented with kveik have already appeared on tap at Brutal Beerworks, On Rotation and TKO Libations.

"We've got it scheduled for all future versions of our hazy IPA, You Like the Juice," says Ty Sefton, co-founder at TKO Libations. "With kveik, the citrus notes from the hops we use burst out at you compared to yeast strains we've used in the past. And, the haze stays."

Kveik has also been used in a blonde ale at Bluffview Growler, a barleywine at Hemisphere Brewing Co., and in Berliner weisse beers at Celestial Beerworks. The yeast's understated flavor elements make stouts fair game as well, with New Main Brewing Co. and Cedar Creek Brewery among those who have explored the dark side with kveik.

"Every big stout you see from us in the future will probably be made with kveik," says Aaron Eudaly, head brewer at Cedar Creek. "The fermentation speed is a big reason, but it also has a very high alcohol tolerance. It's probably the heartiest strain of yeast I have personally worked with."

Other local examples exist, and there are surely more to come. BrainDead Brewing has experimented with kveik, and Hop & Sting Brewing Co. plans to brew a honey tripel with it later this year. Plus, kveik is already on the radar at Rollertown Beerworks, a new brewery set to open in Celina in early 2020.

Originally published as part of a special section on NTX Beer Week in the October 31, 2019 edition of the Dallas Observer. An online copy of the complete newspaper is available by clicking here.

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