Arcane Brewing Techniques: Brewing with a Kveik Ring
By Jérémie Tremblay, Brasserie Independante Baleine Endiablée
Arcane Brewing Techniques is a new blog series from Escarpment Labs, where brewers and yeast scientists share stories from the fringes of fermentation experimentation. Historical and modern brewing methods converge to (hopefully) get you to think differently about beer and fermentation.
Comme des voeux renouvelés
The project Comme des voeux renouvelés (closest translation is “renewed vows”) started in 2020. The idea was pretty simple: brewing good and stable ale at a commercial level with a kveik ring as the only yeast source for fermentation, being fully aware that dropping a crusty piece of wood in 7 bbl of wort is really counterintuitive for a pro brewer. Our kveik ring is made of maple wood and is about 8 inches in diameter. After two years and 10 batches, this little guy made about 75 bbl of good and stable beer. Mostly Saison- inspired, farmhouse ale, and also raw ale and IPA.
Obtaining a Kveik Ring
Mine was obtained from a friend of mine. He is a woodworking artist. It's made of maple wood. At first, I was afraid that maple, being a hard wood, would not be porous enough for yeast, but it's doing great so far.
You can obtain a wooden kveik ring from Etsy.
Or, you can make your own using instructions from the following sources:
Starting the kveik ring
To start the project, I needed to infuse the ring with yeast. I was already experimenting with 15 different strains of kveik from different labs and knew the characteristics of each one. I took 12 of my favourite strains and blended them to brew a beer. The idea was to create a blend that would give complexity and I wanted something unique. I boiled the ring to make sure that no bacteria were in the mix and pitched the ring at the same time as my kveik yeast blend. After 2 days, at high krausen, I took the ring out and put it on a hook in the brewery to let it dry. I put a fan right on it for the first 24 hours of drying to accelerate the process. This also helps to keep curious fruit flies away. That’s it, the ring was now ready to use.
Fermenting with the kveik ring
In most batches, after one week, most of the fermentation is done. But the last degree Plato takes more time. Sometimes, another 2 weeks is necessary to finish. I always get a lag at the end of fermentation. Maybe because of the temperature drop. My tanks are not double-jacketed and there is no temperature control at all. We transfer our wort at 35°C, pitch the ring and let it free rise. It can get to 43°C. This vigorous fermentation slows down when the temperature drop. We are in Québec, it's a really cold climate. In the winter, the temperature in the brewery is around 12°C. Kveik don't like cold and temperature drops. They tend to slow down a lot. Since we don't cold crash and don't do filtration, I always give it at least 4 weeks before packaging.
We experimented with different ways to use the kveik ring. We brewed mostly high-ABV ale and, even though this is kveik we’re talking about, it’s not indestructible. The first 4 batches went really well. We would just put the ring in and get it out after 2 days when the fermentation is the most active, at high krausen. We started having problems in the 5th batch. The ring has not been used for 7 months straight at this point. The beer came out really bad. There were high levels of fusel alcohol. We had to drain this batch.
My first thought was maybe 7 months is too long. So I cleaned the tank and tried again. Same problem. Down the drain. I was ready to throw the ring in a fire pit at this point. It was simply not viable for a brewery to drain this much beer. I failed, I thought. But before accepting defeat, I had to try one last thing. Maybe if I step it up. To ‘’wake’’ the ring, I put it in a 5-gallon bucket filled with a simple 12-degree Plato wort (1.048 specific gravity).
After 2 days, the fermentation was done and the beer tasted good so I brewed a 2.5 bbl batch and dumped the bucket beer in it, with the bucket acting like a starter. After 5 days, the fermentation was mostly done and the beer was really good. I felt confident to fill the rest of the tank with 5 bbl of the same simple 12-degree Plato wort. Bingo! A week later, the fermentation was done and the result was a really good farmhouse ale. I did it again 4 months later. Same process, same good result.
Storing kveik ring between brews
To "store" the yeast between brews, I simply let it dry on a hook in the brewery in absolute open air. Sometimes, it can stay there for months. We take it out of the brewery only when deep cleaning to ensure that no chemicals get on it. The idea was to be as close to the original Norwegian farmhouse brewers as we can. I can now say that after 2 years and 10 batches, there are still no traces of non-yeast contaminants such as lactic acid bacteria in the mix. That was my biggest surprise. I was pretty sure that I would have funky friends at the party by then. The attenuation is always fairly high, between 87% and 94%. One of the original 12 strains is a Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus which may explain the high attenuation. That was intentional, I wanted the minimum residual sugar possible to keep bugs away. After 10 batches, the beers brewed with the ring are really complex, yet refreshing and crushable. Lots of stone fruits, red apples and caramel notes. The signature of the yeast had developed and changed a lot over time. We still have every version in bottles at our pub and it’s really nice to taste each one side by side to see where the ring is going. It’s way more subtle now, yet more complex and refined.
Is maintaining a kveik ring worth it?
Is this project worth it? I’d say yes, absolutely, but with some conditions. We dedicated tanks, hoses, gasket, clamps and valve to this project to make sure there is no cross-contamination. We still do ‘’clean’’ fermentation in our other fermentation tanks. I would not brew all my beers with the ring. It makes really great farmhouse ale but the signature of the ring is really strong and takes centre stage in the beer profile.
Harvesting the ring from the fermentation, before drying:
Before and after drying yeast on the kveik ring
Close-up of dried yeast on the kveik ring
The kveik ring inoculating wort
Pitching kveik ring into a fermentor
Photo of “Comme des voeux renouvelés V.4” that I took last month. The V.4 is 2 years old and it is still an amazing beer. It's a 100% pilsner malt grain bill that I mashed at 62°C for 2 hours and hopped with SAAZ. It is 9% abv and really easy to drink. A dangerous beer.
If you are in Quebec, seek out the beers from Microbrasserie Baliene Endiablée to taste the results for yourself!
If you are curious to experiment more with kveik check out our Kveik yeast collection including our seasonal “The Kveik Ring” series. And if you’re a kveik convert, check out our Kveik The World hat and T-shirts.
If you know have used a Kveik Ring or known someone who has, make sure to let us know in the comments below! If you have ideas for future Arcane Brewing Techniques, feel free to make suggestions.