i recently returned from norway, after attending the 2018 Kornølfestival. So recent, in fact, that I am up at 3 in the morning typing! ah, jet lag. in this tiny town of Hornindal, tucked on the backside of a giant glacier, hidden within the steep valleys and sitting next to the deepest lake in all of europe, my mind was arrested. the fog would rolled in, the rain fell, the clouds broke and then a rainbow split my mind into little tiny bits of dried yeast, called kveik. the brewing traditions here are so old, and so in-line with the philosophy of my brewing identity that the confirmation of my unsubstantiated beliefs was a bit like seeing god. in my case, i was experiencing the physical sensation of touching deep history, feeling the continuous thread of human existence. this alone is pretty good for an american mongrel, making shit up as he goes along, but to combine that sensation with evidence of our human ability to work with nature and how that (in effect) creates community, well, that is god, as i see believe.
there is a fellow by the name of lars marius garshol who is doing more for the preservation and protection of our ancient beer culture than anyone else right now. thank you lars! you can read his blog here, and i highly encourage you to do so. it’s your duty as a beer culture enthusiast and i won’t feel guilty about pressuring you. lars is one of the main reasons that Kornølfestival exists at all, and after hearing him talk about the methodology and deep cultural significance of brewing beer in northern europe, i’m in his debt for all of his work. perhaps you can tell from this post, but i’m still wrestling with how to organize all of this information, how to put things into practice at my brewery, how to communicate around our contemporary bland hazebro beer culture. we run the risk of simple observation, it seems. folks can attend the Kornølfestival and come home with stories of how quaint, how traditional, how adorable the fact that people still brew beer in this manner. we can take their yeast, check that, we already have taken their yeast and removed it from context for our own gratification. if we don’t celebrate the culture, if we don’t honor the how and why that kveik is still around, we will lose big. so please, know the culture, respect the culture when using kveik. i think it can cross over to how we think about our own yeasts, beers, breweries and collective beer future together. we can learn what we used to know again!
these farmhouse brewers only brew for celebrations…they don’t brew all the time, they don’t consume their beer daily. the grain was grown for eating primarily, and they have a lot of other, higher priority duties. each farmer has his own kveik, yeast that they manage for their fermentations. over generations, the yeast developed incredible characteristics by the specific manner in which they were used by humans. kveik can ferment incredibly warm or cold without producing any off-flavors. this means the beer can be consumed very fresh, sometimes just after a couple of days. neighbors would notice that you were brewing and inherently know to show up to the celebration a few days later to celebrate and consume. kveik strains need to be mixed in order to stay healthy. farm brewers trained the yeast to be dried for long-term storage (drying kills the bacteria, so this step is a completely natural way to keep their yeast free of contaminants). they spread out the harvested yeast and allow to dry, then they can store for decades. they combine these yeast chips in a bit of first wort on brew day, and by the time they are done with run-off the starter is bubbling away and ready to pitch. farm brewers trade yeast chips and use multiple different harvests at brewing to keep the kveik healthy. this has inspired the concept of sharing for the collective wealth and health to the point that these brewers bring their yeast to gatherings like the Kornølfestival and hand it out to anyone that wants it. I brought home 2 Hornindal strains from Stig (one from his brothers 60th birthday brew and one from 2012, which he told me ‘wasn’t very old’) and one Voss strain from Arvig. I am currently brainstorming how best to utilize them in my brewery to make great beer and celebrate brewing culture.
farm beer is utilitarian at it’s best. beer made by farmers that grew grain in order to eat & drink it. in the far north, where grain production was limited by the environment, farmers historically didn’t brew because they needed all the grain for survival eating. further south, farmers made beer, but it definitely wasn’t spontaneous. there was no way that they would risk their precious grain on something so speculative, and also explains why spontaneous beer needs to be blended. simply put, it’s not always good. this was a phenomenal discovery for me. these brewers made good beer in a predictable and completely natural manner, one that lessened the risk of their decision to use the precious grain for pleasure purposes. they weren’t scientists, but by careful experience and tradition, they were able to brew consistently good beer at random times throughout the year.
brewing with Stig!
beer culture eureka moment #1: Natural yeast management is essential to my identity as a brewer. There is a relationship between humans and yeast that extends WAY back and helps put spontaneous beer into perspective for me. What these kveik brewers have accomplished through generations working with their yeast is astounding and rules supreme over what we brewers can get from our high-tech laboratories. It also elevates the human involvement in a very important way, considering the current adoration of spontaneous beer.
beer culture eureka moment #2: lars discussed his way to classify ‘beer’ based on observing ancient brewing methods that are still utilized today in the countryside of northern europe. it’s mind-boggling and gets back to the point at how important wort production is. these brewers were poor. having a copper pot of any substantial size was an extreme luxury which most didn’t posses. as a result, lars classifies beer into 3 main categories: 1) heat by boiling, 2) heat by hot rocks, 3) heat by baking. Notice, if you would, that all 3 refer to the way that brewers will attain the heat necessary to convert the starches in the mash into sugars. this is the essential step that identifies beer as beer, and guess what? it’s specifically related to wort production! and yes, hot rocks & baking. if you take out the wort production from beer, you then are left with a process akin to any fermented beverage. it is this specific process, our conversion of starches to sugars and the separation of the grain from wort that is inherently ours to own.
beer culture eureka moment #3: farm beer has always existed, but it is distinctly different than where we get our beer from today. breweries, industrial breweries, and now craft breweries all sprouted from the farm brewery at some point back in history, but the need for capital gain and continuous processing alter the makeup considerably. ‘drink local’, ‘farmhouse beer’, ‘cottage brewery’ all describe something far different than the reality in contemporary brewing context. where do the ingredients come from? what are you really making with your stainless steel brewery with all of those chemicals and additives? can you think beyond a laboratory yeast strain to make farmhouse-style beer? Brewers! There is work to be done, post haste! Engage thy creative brain!
Much respect to these farm brewers. I will take what I’ve learned and protect and share it as much as I’m able. Skål!
October 14th, 2018 at 12:09 am
More pictures if you have them
October 14th, 2018 at 1:06 am
gonna have to wait for the film. making a documentary about the experience!
October 14th, 2018 at 2:29 am
Thank you for sharing your experience over there and the traditions of brewing that go back centuries!
October 16th, 2018 at 1:52 pm
Very interesting. I’ve been reading Larsblog for a couple of years. I have friends in Latvia which still has some farm brewing traditions. In 2001 in Latvia a friend’s dad (a farmer, who has since passed away) showed me how he brewed, including the typical straw filtration for lautering in the bottom of a wooden barrel. He grew his own barley and traded his malt for a neighbor’s hops, which he did not grow. I was able to try two of his beers.
I just got back from another trip to the Baltics and a neighbor of my friends lent me a book on Latvian farmhouse brewing. My Latvian sucks, but I copied the book so I could at least do some rough translation back in Portland. It’s important to keep past traditions alive and while it seems Norway has a vibrant culture, with kveik becoming more common even in the US, some of the other areas, such as Latvia, are seeing that disappear. I’m curious to see what becomes of your kveik samples and thanks for the great post!
October 16th, 2018 at 2:20 pm
That was an amazingly well writen article. I look forward to seeing what you do with your two new strains. Are you going to bring any of the equipment back to experiment with?
October 19th, 2018 at 7:53 pm
What a great experience! I discovered Lars blog some time ago and read almost all posts about that Nordic and Baltic brewing culture. Your feelings about it are the same as mine! And it is beyond the kveik. Shure, I’d love to brew with kveik, make some raw ales or even bake my mash, but this is beyond that.
Thanks for sharing!