WTF Am I Drinking? Kveik Yeast with Oslo Brewing Company

 

We’re baaack! We are so excited to be comin’ atcha’ with the second episode of our explainer podcast series, WTF Am I Drinking?

We kicked the series off with Ditto, who told us all about their piquette spritz and what exactly a piquette is. Now, we’re back with to answer a question on many craft beer fans’ minds: What exactly is kveik yeast?

“Kveik yeast” has been showing up on more and more labels of more and more beers from your favorite breweries. It’s a hot commodity in great beer, but why? What makes it special--and how does it make beer special? And where did it even come from?

There is truly no one better to walk us through all things kveik yeast than Dimitri Yogaratnam, Founding Partner and CEO of Oslo Brewing Company. This Norway-based brewery is lighting the world up with buzz for its fantastic beers, and one such example is its Kveik IPA. Because of Oslo’s must-have example of a kveik beer, and because kveik itself is also Norwegian just like this brewery, Dimitri was nice enough to walk us through the ins, outs, and surprises of kveik yeast--like the fact that despite its more recent rise in craft beer, it’s actually been around for centuries!

This conversation will answer all your questions about kveik yeast, and will definitely make you thirsty for Oslo’s Kveik IPA. Take a read of the episode’s full transcript below, a fun conversation between Dimitri, TapRm Creative Lead Hannah Heath, and TapRm blogger Courtney Iseman. And to listen, head here! Listened to, read, or both, this episode is definitely best enjoyed with a Kveik IPA in hand. Cheers!

 

Courtney: So hello everyone. TapRm is really excited to be here with you, Dimitri, for Oslo Brewing Company. We really want to get to know you and the brand before we get to the exciting topic that we're going to be discussing, so first of all, thank you for joining us.

Dimitri: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Courtney: And so in order to get to know you a bit, I know Oslo Brewing Company has a really cool story so why don't we just let you sort of take it from the beginning, your love of craft beer, how you sort of ended up in Norway, and how Oslo Brewing Company grew from all of that.

Dimitri: Yeah, so Oslo Brewing Company was started by a group of friends. My wife and most of the investors are all friends from high school, and they all happened to have a really convenient set of skills, so we had a few graphic designers, publicists, web designer, an accountant, a lawyer, and then there was me from the food and beverage industry, and I've been in the food and beverage industry for as long as I could work, mainly as a bar and restaurant manager but also a chef, and I'm a trained pastry chef, as well. 

About 2009, I moved to Norway with my wife. We had lived in Rhode Island together, where I'm from, for five years. And then when I moved there, I started working in a restaurant group and kind of worked my way up there and got friendly with the owners and told them my dream of opening my own place. And he invited me into a craft beer bar that he was opening. And, at the time, I wasn't super into craft beer, but this bar ended up being--it had the second-longest bar in Europe and was just filled with tap lines and, yeah--it was just enormous. And I [became] a manager there and then, yeah, I just had to get into craft beer and then fell in love with it. 

My friends and partners always hung out there, and we had these serving tanks where people would always ask us like, "Do you make your own beer here?" and after like 3,000 times of getting that question we figured, hey, maybe we should probably start making our own

beer. And we had a night in the bar one night where we came up with that someone should make a beer for Oslo because Oslo is doing a lot of cool things, and we really want to tell that story.

And you know nights in a bar with friends and big plans sometimes don't happen, but the next morning, someone got the website, someone registered the company, and we were meeting the next day and things just started rolling from there and everyone was super motivated. And the next year after that, we just started really getting down to work, and it was a super fun process. It was just working day and night with a lot of great friends, and we brought in other friends, and it was just a lot of energy around it like family working together…

With Oslo Brewing Company, we wanted to really capture the energy of Oslo as a brand. Oslo is really diverse and really welcoming, has this great sense of community and no one's really telling that story. It's like this really great cross-section of a vibrant urban life and great culinary scene and then on the other side you have this great nature that surrounds the entire city, forest and the oceans and the fjords and everything. Norwegians don't really like talking about that so much, or they're not so boastful, so it took an American to come in and start Oslo

Brewing Company to start showing off the city a little bit.

So when we first started, we had a tagline called, “Putting Oslo on the Map Through Beer.” So we've always had the intention of being an international brand. And that's why right when we started, we opened our bar Øl in Tokyo. Øl is the Norwegian word for beer…So, yeah, that's been a great hit and really kind of helped us get into the international market…

Also an important thing, we're a contract brewery, which means we rent space from

other breweries. So we have four partners here in Norway, which has been a lot of fun. We get to work with a lot of different brewers, with a lot of different experience. Yeah, we work with a really experienced German pilsner brewer to make our Nordic pilsner, which is fantastic and our flagship here. And, yeah, we work in Lofoten, which is just a beautiful place in Norway, which has just lots of mountains and nature and just feels really nice. And, yeah, the contract brewing also gives us a lot of flexibility to brew in other places. That's how we got connected with…contract brewing in the US, so we can get people fresh beer in the US and, yeah, it gives us a lot of flexibility in our business so we can do projects like this.

Courtney: Awesome. I mean the international reach that you hit the ground running with I think is really special and unique. You kind of started to get into it a little bit. But I think it'd be fun just to hear sort of what the response has been like in these different parts of the world. How are you finding people are connecting with Oslo Brewing Company beer?

Dimitri: That's been really fun. In Asia--I'm sure you're familiar with Voss Water, which is Norwegian. So I feel like that has done a lot of the work for us because a lot of the salespeople say, "Oh, this is made with the same water as Voss Water." And now everybody's into it.

Courtney: So interesting.

Dimitri: Right, it’s this pristine environment…Norway is beautiful. And, yeah, so everyone just has this imagine of Norway being this very pristine and high quality and everything's great. So the products of Norway work really, really well. Like our pilsner, which is just clean and sleek. And, yeah, it really fits well in the Asian market. And different markets react

different ways. And in the US, we're just getting off the ground, so we don't have a lot of research on how people are reacting to it. But it seems really positive. We've gotten a lot of warm response from people so far, and, yeah. And in Norway, yeah, it goes great. In Oslo, we do great in cities where we have friendly rivalries. [Laughs.] We chose a pretty

strong geographical name, so, yeah. [Laughs.] 

Hannah: I know I can speak for theTapRm sales team that when they're out in the field,

especially in New York, talking about the brand, it's so easy for them to paint a picture of where this beer comes from, the scenery. Dimitri actually got to come to the TapRm office and talk about Norway. And I think the entire sales team has this long, landscape pitch of how beautiful the landscape is. And it's just such an easy sell because you're just selling this whole lifestyle of travel and somewhere that people want to go, especially now during COVID, I think. So, it's just such a great picture to have in your head when you're having the beer.

Dimitri: Yeah--[and] we kind of target that outdoor lifestyle as well, so that's very much what being in Oslo is all about. It's like you get that--you can be a foodie. You can really love going out and hitting the town at night, but then you can also--in the morning, you can be out cross-country skiing and just really deep in nature and not see a building for as far as you can see. So, it's, yeah, pretty unique in that way, so that's the story that we like telling.

Courtney: I think that hits upon something good, too, that would be interesting to talk about quickly here. In addition to when you said that the pilsner is a really nice showcase for this amazing water that you're brewing with, when it comes to everything from the actual physical ingredients to even that vibe that you're embodying and the spirit of Oslo and life there--again, before we get to the Kveik IPA in particular, do you want to sort of talk a little bit more about some of the other specific beers and how they do play that role, how they sort of convey that spirit of Oslo and Norway?

Dimitri: Yeah, definitely. All the beers that we make, we want to make easy-drinking beers. And just, we kind of see ourselves as kind of the gateway drug into craft beer because we don't make too many imperial stouts and barrel-aged beers and things like that, and very challenging sour beers. We make really easily accessible things that kind of--flavors that you see in your day-to-day life and things that you just want to grab and have with dinner, and just really approachable beers. That's kind of what we're searching for, and we also make concepts that kind of resonate with peoples' day-to-day life. 

I think that the beer that we launched with in the US and the beer that we launched with in pretty much every new market is our Oslove, which is a passion fruit blonde. That's a year-round beer that we initially made for our Oslo Pride, so we were really proud about that. It's a very unique Pride celebration in the way that the entire city gets involved from--it's a family event. People are just more excited about--basically, just excited to see all the unique people and get their face painted and just have a good night, and it's a really beautiful celebration.

And the word "Oslove" comes from, yeah, in Oslo, there was this terrorist attack that happened and afterwards--well, all like other cities that have been hit by terrorist attacks, unfortunately…the city usually comes together and Oslo was no different. The tagline of that was “Oslove.” And the entire city was like, "We're not going to react with hate. We're just going to react and be more open, be more diverse, be more welcoming." And it was a really beautiful thing that we liked and that we wanted to capture in that beer, and that's kind of at the core of what our values are as a company and the values of what Oslo are, and that's what we want to communicate. So, that's usually the beer that we want to run with because that's really

telling the story of who we are and what we want to be and who we want to be.

Courtney: That's a really great story. Okay, so I'm going to get into our explainer a bit here. So this is a great time for me to find out if I have been embarrassing myself. Am I pronouncing Kveik correctly?

Dimitri: Yeah, yeah, you're good.

Courtney: Okay. Now that I've said it seven times, [laughs] yeah. So because Oslo Brewing Company has this fantastic Kveik IPA and because you are in Norway where this yeast strain originates, we are going to have you walk us through a bit about this. So basically, Hannah and I have been talking lately when we are talking about this IPA, the fact that in the States, we've been starting to see Kveik printed on cans the last couple of years or so. And so I think there's a perception among some American craft beer drinkers that this is a hot new thing, when really, it's brewers sort of coming around to something that's been around for actually a very long time. Can you tell us anything you sort of know about the history and origins of Kveik yeast?

Dimitri: Yeah, definitely. It's been around for a long time. I actually tried finding out when it was actually founded, but there's no clear date on that. It's just been around. Even Vikings used it. And it's categorized as a farmhouse ale. And a lot of farms in Norway use this yeast for both beer brewing and bread making. They only have one yeast. So it was just a constant job just

baking and brewing, baking and brewing, because you had to get the yeast alive. If your yeast is sour, then you had to go get it from your neighbor or somewhere down the road. That's why it's that today when there's not so many farms around and that kind of almost went out of existence--but luckily, not completely out of existence for us. 

It was in the early 2000s. There was a strain from Voss that was sent to a lab. And then that was to be cultivated and used commercially. And then, yeah, I remember when home brewers started using it, and then we started hearing about it. And it was friends would just be passing it around through home brew communities. And that's where it kind of started. And commercially, it didn't come until a little bit later. The trend blew up almost in Norway at the same time as it did around the world. Anyway, when everyone started brewing beers with Kveik and you start seeing beers being brewed in other countries, you're like, "How did they hear about this already?" [Laughs] It seemed to happen pretty quickly. But the flavors and everything about it is really special. So it's great that it's come back to life.

Courtney: So is that sort of how it spread in the recent years in the brewing community through home brewers sort of catching onto that? I think I'm wondering how maybe it reached so far outside of Norway and even Scandinavia.

Dimitri: Well, there're a lot of different Kveik strains. So there's, yeah, there’s Opshaug, which is the one that we use in our beer, and there's Voss, and there's even a newer strain in Oslo that a lab has made. But they all have the same genetic properties, but they're all different strains. So they've all been cultivated in different regions and just kept alive. I think there's about three or four original strains that have been kept going, and then just passed. It's really similar to a sourdough starter. So if you pass that around, you can transfer bread. It's the same. As I was saying, you can use the yeast for bread or for beer. So it's passed around that way through families. It takes a lot of work and diligence to keep those things alive for hundreds of years.

Courtney: Yeah. I was going to ask how something is sustained for that long, right? It's been so many hundreds of years that this has been passed down and used. I mean do we know anything about sort of the immediate value that people started noticing it

was bringing to beer, which is why it made it something that even when that wasn't the only thing available for brewing in Norway, people did want to keep using it?

Dimitri: The value for home brewers is that you can make beer really, really fast. A normal beer will take you, yeah, anywhere from three to six weeks, right. But this beer like beer made with Kveik, if you do it at a really warm temperature, it can be done, ready to bottle in four days. So pretty much a week later, you're drinking [your] beer. I think that's what keeps it pretty interesting. For home brewers, you don't need to buy the expensive equipment to control temperatures or anything like that. You don't need to even need to think about that

really. If you brew it a little bit colder, it tastes a little bit cleaner. If you brew it a little bit warmer, it gets a little more fruity flavors, but there're no off flavors with Kveik. It's really user-friendly, very easy, and it always makes a good beer. Yeah, so I think that's, yeah, one of the values that home brewers need.

And then, I think it's really exploded because of the values that it brings to commercial brewers, with the same things--brewing fast, like if you're turning over a beer in two weeks instead of three to four weeks. You just double your capacity almost in the brewery. And also the yeast is so versatile…if you brew colder, that's closer to maybe a blonde ale or a lager or something like that. And if you brew warmer, you can get these really fruity esters that are really great for IPAs and New England IPAs and things like that. So it's really versatile. So it's just very user-friendly yeast. 

Courtney: So that's brewing, and then in terms of--you're getting a little bit into the flavors and aromas it might be imparting. So let's talk a bit again before we get into the specifics of how it affects different styles, and how you've used it. So…Kveik doesn't have phenols, so you're not going to get any of that spice from fermenting at higher temperatures. As far as

the esters, are there specifics that Kveik is associated with?

Dimitri: There is a few different strains. Most of them are tropical fruits, but some of them, the one that we use in particular…that's pretty clean. That does impart some flavor. I think that does have a little bit of--a little spiciness to it. But it's overall very…just a clean flavor…There's, yeah, the Voss that has a lot of tropical fruit, guava, citrus…

Hannah: Have you seen any variations per region, like certain regions like to use it with certain flavors, or like the trends that have been happening as it's kind of spread?

Dimitri: Yeah. I think, well, this yeast complements [New England IPAs] really, really well. So I think, yeah, that's been the biggest hit. And then I haven't seen--people have made…other styles of beer with Kveik of course, but I think the lagers and really more straightforward brews are really unique--full-bodied lager, it's really nice. But I don't see as many of those as I would like to see. I think we would like to make those pretty soon.

But IPA seem to be the trend with this style or, yeah, like some farmhouse sales or some twist on that. Like a Norwegian version of a saison.

Courtney: It's interesting that you said before that this sort of exploded at the same time in Norway as it did in the States because I had this sneaking suspicion like, "Oh, we probably just caught onto this." And people in Norway have been enjoying Kveik-fermented craft beer for years. So this really did all sort of boom at the same time-ish, so to speak?

Dimitri: More or less. It's been around. If you go to Voss or someplace where the yeast was being made you can, of course, go to a farmhouse and you could have found this beer made with their house yeast but, yeah, it wasn't commercially available. For sure you couldn't find it in the grocery store like you can now. It's more at the local liquor store or something. But, yeah, now it’s really readily available.

Courtney: So we know the benefits for brewers. In terms of as a drink or as a consumer, the person enjoying that beer, what do you think maybe is making that difference that's leading to Kveik's popularity? Do you remember the first time you had a beer made with Kveik yeast? And sort of is there a difference you're picking up on even if it's subtle and maybe the average beer

drinker wouldn't know exactly why? Is there some noticeable difference there?

Dimitri: It brings a different kind of fruit flavor than hops do. So it's nuanced. There's still the tropical fruits, there's still, yeah, the citrus taste that hops give, but it's definitely different. It's just I guess, yeah, kind of like making a soup or something. And if you get different layers you put your hops or your herbs and I guess the root vegetables in it or that kind of the yeast in there.

So you get different layers of flavor and that's what the yeast is doing. So it really makes a more full-bodied, kind of complete beer, I guess.

Courtney: So is the Kveik IPA Oslo Brewing Company's first beer with Kveik?

Dimitri: No. We've made a few. We've made an Easter IPA with Kveik that was pretty good. We've done a lot of IPA's with Kveik. The first beer that we did was with--that was when we first started hearing about Kveik, and a friend of a friend had gotten us a vial of yeast to do a test batch with. And we made a cider with Norwegian apples. Norway's really proud about their apples. They're super crisp and tart. Great. And we also made, yeah, a farmhouse kind of beer. And then we blended them together and that just came out. Yeah, that was just really nice. We had a test lab that we were just doing just a few kegs at a time. And, yeah, that one came out great. It was just, yeah, just like a really, really dry cider.

Hannah: Sounds so good.

Dimitri: Yeah.

Courtney: That does sound so good.

Hannah: Sounds delicious, especially with an amazing--I'm just picturing the best apple I've ever had in my life.

Courtney: Yeah.

Dimitri: Right. Yeah, that was our first one. That was our first experience with it, and that was, yeah that was a lot of fun. But we…didn't scale that one out.

Hannah: It was a labor of love. [Laughs]

Courtney: Yeah. Have there been any other styles that you've experimented with or tried? Any hits, any misses with Kveik?

Dimitri: It's been the IPA, the farmhouse ale…I would love to get into more cleaner styles that don't have the adjuncts that just let the yeast shine because--yeah. There aren't too many of those on the market, and the yeast has so much flavor in itself, and certainly, with everything that's happening…Now there's a lot of flavors there, so just having something that just really lets the beer shine without a lot more of the hoppiness would be a lot of fun and something that I'd really like to make.

Hannah: That would definitely fit in with the portfolio of other flavors you have. That's very drinkable.

Courtney: Well, now the pièce de résistance. So I have it here, and I'm really excited. So I'll take a pour of this so we can talk a little bit about the Kveik IPA here in particular.

Hannah: Courtney, is this your first time trying it? We're getting a real-life reaction?

Courtney: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Isn't that lovely?

Hannah: That's a great pour.

Courtney: Oh, it smells so good. Okay, let's talk a little bit before we get to the flavor and aroma, maybe concepting of this beer, like how--so you're working with Kveik on these--you have this farmhouse ale; you have this other IPA that you've done. How does this particular Kveik IPA end up in this can?

Dimitri: Well, we wanted to use Opshaug yeast because…it's a really clean Kveik yeast. It

ferments out without a lot of the fruity esters. We had great options. We had Cascade and Mandarina Bavaria hops. We really wanted to make those shine. We wanted to have the Kveik yeast just provide that full body and just kind of--yeah…So that's the yeast that we chose, and then--yeah, the body is wheat and oats, just to make it really full body. Then the warming sensation is the 9% of alcohol that we--yeah. [Laughs] It's a pretty big beer.

It's a bit stronger than what we usually make…But when we did the test, actually, this just came

out too good to not do it, so it's--yeah.

Hannah: It's scary drinkable for 9%. [Laughs]

Dimitri: Right?

Courtney: I'm sitting here holding it. I'm warming it a little bit for the aromas to open up, and I have to say very few beers can I hold this far away from my nose and smell like this one. And the tropical aromas are just dreamy. They're just coming right up.

Hannah: Yeah. How cold is it in New York today?

Courtney: It's--yeah, it’s cold. [Laughs]

Hannah: Like 18 degrees.

Courtney: It might be as cold in Oslo. I'm not sure but--[Laughs]

Dimitri: It's not that bad. It's actually--yeah, it's over 30 outside, yeah.

Hannah: Yeah. It's just taking Courtney to a beachy place. [Laughs]

Courtney: That is really, really drinkable and it's really lovely and balanced but yeah, the tropical flavors are really there. I mean, are there specifics that you get when you drink this, like specific tropical fruits or anything that comes out to you?

Dimitri: For me it was passion fruit, peaches, and floral from the little bit of flower notes and definitely some citrus. Citrus is very dominating there. Yeah, and then the Opshaug yeast just gives it--if you notice, there's a little bit of spiciness to it. There’s a bit of a kick to it.

Courtney: Yeah, there is a little bit of nice spice there. Yeah, and I really can't believe it's 9%. So you were saying that when you got to this batch, you were like, "This is too perfect." So was it like a conscious, "We want to brew a bigger beer?"

Dimitri: Yeah, we did want to try that out because we usually don't do that. We just wanted to--and so we've done a test batch with this and we really wanted to do, yeah, a big beer. So we had to test a lot. 

Courtney: I feel like we've done it, right, with Kveik? I mean, I feel like this was a really great explainer that would help people get to know this yeast a bit better and I feel like if people aren't just kind of drooling, right…? Who’s not wanting to specifically have the Oslo Brewing Company Kveik IPA to experience this yeast? I mean, it's such a great example, right? This beer is a beautiful crash course in what yeast can bring to a beer. 

I think what would maybe be a fun way to end is, let's just talk about amazing other Norwegian or Scandinavian--any other regional ingredients that maybe you are interested in that you experiment with. Are there any other elements of beer that we can expect to see from Oslo Brewing Company down the pipeline? Anything that's sort of spiking your interest?

Dimitri: Yeah, definitely. We take a lot of inspiration from, yeah, things in day-to-day life…We use cloudberries which are found in the Arctic Circle and up in the high mountains and they look like raspberries but they're orange and they have a really unique taste with that. There's a Christmas dessert where you mix that with whipped creme...We made a milkshake IPA that was a bit reminiscent of that. Yeah, we made that one and we also made a pilsner with the same cloudberries and it's such a fun ingredient to use. One, it's super hard to

get. Me and the team have been looking for it everywhere…but yeah, it's really hard. You have to go and handpick them in the mountains and it's--so we really like it in that beer. Mostly there's berries in Norway, strawberries, and raspberries since in the summertime we have long sunny days. You don't get sweet strawberries or raspberries like that anywhere in the world. We made a beer with berries which-- 

Hannah: Yes, that one was delicious.

Dimitri: Yeah, the berries were just, yeah, so nice. But we brew those [where] they have this massive freezer in the brewery and people go pick berries in the mountains, drop them off there because they have a huge freezer in the space, and forget them. And when we get those berries to put in our beers.

Hannah: Oh my god.

Courtney: That’s lucky.

Hannah: What a good score.

Dimitri: So yeah one other ingredient is--a lot of people use juniper or pine…Yeah, that's not such an unusual ingredient but very commonly used here and we use that in our winter beer.

Hannah: I know you said Norwegians aren't boastful but it sounds like you're making a very strong case for the fruit and I'm really jealous. I feel like I'm getting a crapshoot of fruit now, so.

Dimitri: But that's pretty much it, though. If you want a mango or something, yeah, that’s not so easy--

Courtney: Fair trade.

Hannah: Yeah.

Courtney: What you can get just sounds heavenly so. Awesome. Well, I mean, I think I can speak for everyone at TapRm and I'm sure everyone who’s listening, that we're really excited to continue to see what comes out of Oslo Brewing Company. So I mean, thank you so much for imparting your  Kveik yeast wisdom and telling us about the brand. I think this was really fun so thank you so much.

Dimitri: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Hannah: Thank you. We're all going to take a trip soon.

Courtney: Yes. All right, well, cheers everyone.

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