Kveikstokk? What’s that?
Maybe you’ve heard of a Magic Stick? No? Kveikstokk literally translates from Norwegian to ‘yeast log’ in English. It’s basically a stick of wood that is used to store yeast between brews. Supposedly the origin story is that long before people understood what yeast was they noticed that brews tasted better if they stirred them with a certain stick. The theory being that good yeast from a previous brew stuck to the stick and transferred to the next brew via the stick.
I was inspired to give this method a try when I read about kveikstokker on Lars’ Blog. I have collected apple and birch branches from pruning trees on my property for use in the smoker so I decided I’d try to make a couple of kveikstokker from those branches. I used a rasp to take off the outer and most of the under bark, and then used a hand saw and a file to put some notches and grooves into them to give the yeasties somewhere to stick to and hide.
Once I had the sticks ready there was the matter of yeasting them up. I figured the best way to do this would be to toss them into fermenting beer so I brewed up some Belgian Pale Ale, split it into two batch and pitched my abbey strain in one and another locally harvested strain in the other. In a show of spectacular poor planning I found out at this point that the kveikstokk I had made from the apple wood was too fat to fit through the carboy neck, so only the birch kveikstokk made it into a beer to get yeasted up. It happened to be the beer with my abbey yeast.
After three weeks or so, the beer was done fermenting and in another display of poor planning I could not now remove the swollen with beer (and yeast) kveikstokk from the carboy. I racked the beer out of the carboy and for a while I was concerned that I was going to have to figure out some way of drying out the stick inside the carboy. Fortunately with much tugging, cursing and wiggling I was able to extract it and hang it up to dry. Once it was dry I put it into a plastic container to keep it safe from day to day banging around the workshop until I brewed again. Lucky for me, I happen to own a gallon jug with an extra wide neck so my issues with carboy necks weren’t an issue when using the kveikstokk to ferment a beer.
Eventually I brewed up another Belgian pale ale and I was able to use it. I placed the kveikstokk into the sanitized jug and filled it to the shoulders with wort affixed an airlock and placed it inside the fermentation fridge along with the main batches of the beer.
After two days there was still no action on the kveikstokker beer and I was wondering if it was going to work. My worries proved unfounded as on the third day krausen formed and it looked to be fermenting just fine. Hooray! It worked! After three or so weeks it appeared to be done fermenting, as did the larger batches with normal pitches of yeast. I bottled the beer and hung the kveikstokk up to dry again. After the beer had been bottled for a bit more than two weeks I chilled a bottle down and poured myself a glass. It was decent, but not as good as the large batch of beer that I used a normal pitch of the abbey yeast on. I’ll do some honest to goodness tasting notes on both of the beers in a few days.
This was a fun experiment and I think I’d like to give it a try with some of my other wild yeasts; probably one of my cultures that (I believe) contains brett. Brett is supposed to be able to break down uber complex wood sugars so it seems like living on a stick wouldn’t be a difficult feat for such a beast. So that may be in the future. Maybe I’ll whittle the applewood down so it’ll fit into a carboy neck and toss it into a brett ferment. Other than that, I’m not sure if the kveikstokker is a great idea for a direct pitch. I do also want to try using it to inoculate a starter, build the starter up and then pitch that in tandem with the same yeast from my typical starter/pitch procedure. It could be that this is some sort of strange way of storing yeast (maybe as a backup) for the long term?
Update: Tasting notes