In the ongoing search for new flavours, craft brewers have recently stumbled upon an obscure variety of beer yeast from Norway, of all places. The country that considers gelatinous lye-soaked salt cod its national dish is apparently also home to a delicious fruity, citrusy yeast strain that has been used for centuries to brew traditional Norwegian farmhouse beer.
Called kveik, this particular yeast strain is still not well understood by science, and may actually be a mixture of different strains, and even bacteria. The yeast has traditionally been passed down from generation to generation, collected and dried, using a hand-carved wooden ring that looks like the spine of some unfortunate pet — and perhaps, centuries ago, that’s exactly what it was made from. All the nooks and crannies apparently encourage fungal growth (yeast is a fungus, by the way), so there you go.
Rural Norwegians have been brewing like this since forever in relative obscurity, but thanks to the tireless work of farmhouse ale fanatic Lars Marius Garshol and his amazing Larsblog, word has gotten out about this unique yeast.
So what makes it so special? In addition to the massive fruit flavours it imbues, it’s also heat-resistant, ferments at lightning speed (like, within minutes) and can reach crazy high levels of alcohol for a beer yeast (15 to 16 per cent ABV, under certain conditions).
Naturally, B.C. brewers have been increasingly smitten with kveik.
Four Winds Brewing’s Norwegian Wood Dry-Hopped Farmhouse Ale was one of the first commercial beers in B.C. to utilize kveik yeast when it debuted last year. This year’s batch is proving to be fruitier and more well-balanced, no doubt benefitting from the added experience with the yeast.
Norwegian Wood is initially fermented with kveik, then aged in French oak barrels (hence the name) and finally bottle conditioned with funky Brett yeast to add dryness and carbonation. The gorgeous 750-ml bottle with its colourful label is hard to miss, and I can’t imagine it will stay of shelves for long.
The beer itself is a luscious mix of tropical fruit flavours like pineapple, melon and mandarin orange, complemented by earthy funk notes. There’s a lovely white wine vibe happening, too, no doubt due to the Australian Enigma hops and barrel-aging. The oak notes also help dry out the finish, without going overboard on the tannins and the ABV is a merciful 6.2 per cent, so you won’t be crawling off to sleep in the bath.
There’s a lot going on here, but all the parts are working together beautifully.
Norwegian Wood by Four Winds Brewing Co. (6.2 per cent ABV, 35 IBU)
Appearance: Deep golden orange, translucent with a fluffy beige head.
Aroma: Pineapple, citrus, white wine, earthy Brett funk.
Flavour: Pineapple, mandarin orange, melon, oak, leather, chardonnay, Brett funk, mild tannin, mild hop bitterness, mild smoky note.
Body: Medium body with a medium-dry finish.
Pairs with: Savoy truffle, honey pie, octopus garden salad and googling Beatles’ songs for food puns.
• The Fall 2018 issue of The Growler is out now! You can find B.C.’s favourite craft beer guide at your local brewery, select private liquor stores, and on newsstands across the province.