All about KVEIK at the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020

This is part 5 in a series covering the brewing of farmhouse ale during the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020.

Session 1:  
Session 2:

Saturday, October 10th, the brewing world was treated to a special event: the Norsk Kornølfestival 2020. First happening in 2016, the festival quickly grew a fine reputation for the place to be for anyone interested in farmhouse brewing and the phenomenon of raw ales. In 2020, instead of canceling, the festival went virtual and for a whopping 12 hours anyone interested could follow the brewing of three different styles of farmhouse beer at three different farmhouse locations online.

During the 12 hours, three farmhouse ales were brewed using three slightly different processes. Hornindal brewed a raw ale, Stjørdal a 1-hour boil ale, and Voss brewed a 4-hour boil ale. Each group of brewers did things in a slightly different way: as they said themselves, where you have 50 brewers, you will find 50 different methods, and each brewer thinks their beer is the best! I spent a wonderful Saturday glued to the TV watching these different brewers chat about beer, while taking copious notes. The videos of the live festival are by now released on YouTube and to make navigating the two 6-hour sessions a little less overwhelming, I have annotated each process, step by step, as they appear in the videos (the times listed can be plus or minus a few seconds).

This is the final blogpost in the series and I left the best for last: kveik! This part covers the transcripts of the general questions regarding kveik, as well as the yeasty highlights during the brewing of the three farmhouse ales. I will also include a brief intro for the kveik-specific yeast presentations, as well as links to further resources, including the Farmhouse Kveik Registry, and research, historical background and practical techniques by Lars Marius Garshol of Larsblog and Mika Laitinen of Nordic Brewing.

The YouTube screen grabs are used with permission from the festival organizers.

Part 5: All about the KVEIK!

During downtime Lars Marius Garshol and Amund Polden Arnesen take questions from the live chat from the general public, including several about kveik.

2:43:20 (session 1) How does kveik react to aging, both barrel aging like Lambic, and bottle aging, or other types of aging like stainless steel, concrete etc?

Amund: “We have a brewery in Oslo that kind of does this so I will answer this question from our perspective. We have a house culture, which is a mix of three Hornindal kveiks at this moment, and we basically use this to make sour beer. The guys in Hornindal? They don’t want to make sour beer. We are basically going against tradition. And the reason why this works is that there are bacteria in some of these kveik cultures especially lactobacillus and we primary ferment to get the fruitiness from the yeast fermentation, and then we age to get the sourness. The longer you wait, especially in an oak barrel, the beer will sour. I have had Hornindal beer which was over a year old, from a bottle, that wasn’t sour. I guess there is a lot of influence on how you brew if the beer turns sour or not. But it is definitely possible to make sour beer with these kveiks, and it is also possible to make un-sour beer. This Lactobacillus seems quite sensitive to hops so we have done some whiskey wash brewing where we do not add hops and we measure the pH and it drops quite quickly, but when we use hops and make a hop tea or mash hop, it takes longer for the beer to go sour. It usually goes not as sour, but it goes sour. This is a complex question and it depends on which kveik you are using. If you are using a Voss kveik for instance, chances are less that it will go sour. But there is a lot of factors here, depending on how you brew, what you age it in, and how lucky you are, I guess.”

2:51:36 (session 1) What do we think about using kveik in mead and cider?

Lars Marius: “Kveik, you saw what Stig in Hornindal was preparing to do: he‘s got the first wort that came out of the mash and he wants to put the yeast in to that to grow. This yeast is really used to having lots of nutrients, when it grows but also when it ferments. Analysis by microbiologists shows that it has really high expectations for how much free amino nitrogen, as it is called, it needs, probably also other things. Experiences with fermenting mead and cider is that sometimes it works fine and there are no problems and other times it almost won’t start at all or it stops before you are finished fermenting. So, if you are going to ferment mead or cider with kveik – which you can do, it works just great – it is a really good idea to add yeast nutrient. And the same goes if your wort is not very strong. In Hornindal the beer is about 6.5% to 8.5% and in Voss, Sigmund Gjernes makes 8.5% but the guys in Dyrvedalen make 11-12% beer. This yeast is not used to wort that doesn’t have a lot of sugar and other nutrients in it. In fact, if you are fermenting relatively weak beer it may also be a good idea to add nutrients. There is not really any strong reason not to add nutrients, let’s put it that way.”

2:53:38 (session 1) Is there a difference between a boiled word and a raw wort, in that sense?

Lars Marius: “There probably is a difference, unfortunately, we don’t know that much about it. I don’t know if anybody has ever studied the chemical composition of raw wort. Obviously, it must have more protein, for example. Does it make a difference to the yeast? We don’t really know. We need some scientist to finally figure that one out!”

5:46:58 (session 1) What do you think about kveik being sold all over the world?

Stig: “It’s OK with me. I think if you should have the original kveik, you have to brew it in the original way. Otherwise, it would be weaker and weaker every time you use it. I think it is OK, I think the interest in it will be bigger when people can use it. People are interested in it all over the world, and then, I think we cannot just keep it for ourselves. I don’t think that is the right way. I think it is better people can try it, and if they are really interested maybe they will try [and brew] it original!”

5:48:17 (session 1)  Do you think the commercial kveiks, the ones they sell from the labs, are different from the ones you are using in any way?

Stig: “I think they are, and will be more and more different because we don’t do it [brew] in conditions where we have control over everything. You have seen how we do it today and I guess there will always be, maybe, a flower or two in, we don’t have control [over that] sometimes. But I think that is the strength of the kveik, we don’t have the same temperature, not the same sweetness, I think that is why kveik can handle so many different worts with different sweetness and different temperatures.”

5:49:40 (session 1) How do you dry the yeast?

Stig: “We usually put it on paper, a baking sheet or whatever, and put it on a dry slightly warm place for two weeks or so and then it is [dry]. I don’t think it is smart to have it too hot, too long, because then I think you can kill it. But it has to be warm, and dry. And then, 14 days, three weeks, then I think you can freeze it.” Lars Marius: “Yes, you put it in the freezer in a plastic bag, right. This thing with it being too hot, in Hardanger, Jacob, he puts aluminum foil over one of these shoe racks that have heating in them to dry the shoes. And if he puts on [level] 1 then the yeast will dry quite quickly. And if he puts it on 2 then he kills the yeast. When we were brewing there for Norwegian TV he had put it on 2 and the beer didn’t ferment [both chuckle]. Stig: as I say, there are many different ways to do it.”

(random note) Was wort chilled?

Traditional farmhouse brewers in modern times use home-made modern immersion wort chillers and (home-made) milk container collar chillers. Metal milk containers were popular to use for wort, and as milk needed to be cooled down rapidly just like wort, its use and already available equipment lend itself well to the farmhouse brewing tradition. Perhaps earlier it was placed in cold stream. Whichever way, the faster the wort is cooled, the safer it will be for the yeast. Kveik is a fast and hot ferment, it will really quickly make alcohol and then beat the competition. At first, hot wort will real quickly drop in temperature, but the last wait is the longest. With the high pitching temperatures of kveik that last bit is quicker: the brewer doesn’t have to wait as long to pitch as with normal yeasts.

4:00 (session 2) How are pitching rates determined in traditional brews?

Lars Marius: “You saw how they did it, right? They just take a certain amount of [dried kveik] chips, or a certain amount of liquid kveik and add that. There isn’t any measurement or anything like that. Stig for example will do the “mariaue” [yeast starter; see session 1 at 5:23:36 – 5:36:06] and use that to check his yeast is fresh and so on. Sigmund, as I understood it, he usually looks at the yeast, he opens the jar and if there is a lot of CO2 and it seems like it is fresh, he will just use it. If not, he will make a starter. They kind of play it by ear, see how the yeast is doing and determine it that way. We don’t really measure very much. Sigmund will typically pitch half his jar for example, and then, if it does not start, he will pitch the other half, as well. Tests on under and over pitching have been done by Escarpment Labs. They did a poster presentation at one of the brewing conferences where they looked at this, and what they found was that the Voss and Hornindal kveiks give more aroma if you under pitch them and less aroma if you overpitch but they found that for some of the other kveiks that was not the case. That’s really quite interesting. There isn’t a single rule that works for all the kveiks, basically.”

Amund: “From testing at the brewery, we experienced that the temperature is more important than the pitching. Even when we were under pitching less than the Escarpment Lab recommendation, we saw that as long as we had the high enough temperature on a 1,000-liter batch it did not matter. The temperature turned out to be more important than the pitch rate, for us. This was with our house culture, which is a mix between three Hornindal kveiks. We ferment 1,000 liters without temperature control so we have to pitch at a lower temperature in the summer months and a higher temperature when winter becomes strong. The brewery is from 18°C in the winter to 23-24°C in the summer. Of course, there is a big of a longer lag phase before the fermentation vessel has enough temperature to rise by itself. If it is colder in the environment, we have to pitch higher to have more temperature [buffer] to go down on.”

Escarpment Labs on the impact of pitch rate on kveik ferments

5:04:05 (session 2) Have you ever tried to combine Brettanomyces yeast with the kveik?

Amund: “Yes, we do that quite often. The way it usually goes is that primary ferment with our house culture, which is Hornindal kveik based, and then we put it into oak barrels or oak tanks which contain Brettanomyces yeast among other stuff. And what we see is that, especially the fruity ester profiles that the kveik make, get pretty much picked apart by the Brettanomyces and you get a more familiar Brettanomyces [?]. It seems that these huge ester profiles that the kveiks are famous for don’t really survive Brettanomyces over time. In that way, it is not really recognizable as a kveik” [he gives more detail, as well on his Brewery].

5:25:10 (session 2) Hornindal kveik had bacteria, does that contribute to taste?

Lars Marius is not sure, there has not been any research in that area. There are specialists working with brewing bacteria, like Lactobacillus, but in isolation, not as a mix working together.

5:31:58 (session 2) What does Sigmund know about the history of the kveik he has?

Lars Marius: “He got kveik from a neighbor when he moved to the farm where he lives now and started brewing there. That kveik apparently came from Bordalen but then he mixed in kveik from the family farm Gjernes and at Gjernes they used to get the kveik from the farm Veka in Dyrvedalen (I don’t know exactly who lived there at Veka so that is a hole in my research, I’ll try to find that out later). It is interesting, what he said was kind of the summary to all of this, kveik has forever been traveling around, circulating from person to person.”

5:35:00 (session 2) Is there a limit to how long a raw ale can be stored, apart from the normal aging issues?

Lars Marius: “Many people have said that long-term storage of raw ale does not work, but he has stored raw ale for six months and it kept going getting better, slowly souring and funking up. At the festival, I think last year 2019, Ståle served us his beer he brewed for the festival the year before. It was perfectly fine, normal storage issues but otherwise just great. And then there was the home brewing competition […] there was only modern beers in the home brewing competition. But the locals knew I had written this book about Norwegian farmhouse ales so they asked me to say some words and, I could not help it, I had to tell them I felt it really weird they did not have any of their own beers, all they had were copies of foreign stuff. And then when I sat down, the guy next to me turned around and said, would you like to try some raw ale? He had this huge plastic canister with beer that was two years old and it was fine. Different but fine. What is the limit? I don’t know.”

5:38:06 (session 2) Were any of the beers in the [Kornol Festival] competition carbonated?
Lars Marius: Three were carbonated, one made third place, but other than that, no – generally no.

(random note) Is the Oslo strain a real kveik?
The Oslo strain is a single strain. It is isolated from a kveik house culture, by Bootleg Biology and has very clean flavors. It was isolated from the house culture at Eik & Tid (Amund’s brewery), and is genetically in t kveik family.

Brewing the farmhouse brews
During the Norsk Kornølfestival the volunteer brewers brewed three different farmhouse ales. Especially Stig Seljeset from Hornindal shared valuable practical information on how to work with kveik. It was interesting to observe how matter of fact the brewers treated their kveik, as well as with obvious reverence; clearly kveik has a deep connection with the Nordic farmhouse brewing culture.

Links to the blogposts of the farmhouse ales brewed during the Norsk Kornølfestival.

Brew #1: Hornindal
Stig Seljeset and friends demonstrate the brewing of a traditional Hornindal kornøl.

1:33:17 (session 1) How many generations of Hornindal or Voss kveik can I cultivate before is unviable or produces off flavors? Can it be harvested indefinitely? Stig: “When we harvest the kveik we dry it and stick it in the freezer and then you can have it for… I don’t know… I have been using kveik that is twenty-five thirty years old. Which has been in the freezer. If you dry it well, I think it will stay for a very long time.”

Does it sometimes happen that you have a bad year with the beer and that you don’t use the kveik from that year? Stig: “I only take care of the kveik when I have good beer, because we have so plenty of it, and friends, we just harvest the kveik when we have good beer.”

2:19:34 – 2:42:21 (session 1) At the beginning of the lautering stage the brewer started a kveik bowl by drawing out some hot wort in a kveik bowl to cool it down. He uses a large glass bowl as it will be put near the fire to keep warm, no more than half full to leave room for expansion.

2:35:44 (session 1) About the pronunciation of kveik: is there a definitive pronunciation of kveik? From Norwegians alone I’ve heard “kveik, kvie-ke, kvy-kee.” Most UK and North American people have opted for “kvy-kee.” Basically, how do you pronounce kveik?

Stig: “We just say kweik (with a slight rounding of the v, almost but not quite like a w). Lars Marius: You have a slightly different pronunciation than I do as I am from the east side of the country, I say kwejk (more emphasis on the “ei,” almost like an “ej”). But I don’t know that an English speaker would even notice. Stig: I myself, my language is very much like the old people here in Hornindal were talking, so I think the way I pronounce it is like they did for seventy years ago.” (2:36:49 for a loud and clear pronunciation)

Lars Marius: “When there is a vowel after the final “k” that’s a grammatical inflection. People say “kveika”, but it means “the kveik”. So it’s easy to be fooled here.”

4:20:05 – 4:31:09 (session 1) Stig placed the kveik bowl near the fire, guided by experience, and moves it closer or further away depending on how he gauges the temperature. Hornindal shows a beautiful traditional beer bowl with the text “you are welcome to the beer” around the rim in which the dried kveik flakes are stored. When the kveik wort reaches 29°C, they usually look for between 28-32/34°C, the kveik flakes are shaken into this wort. A bit cooler does not matter too much right now, but when added to the beer wort it should be 30-32°C as then it would start to ferment quicker.

Kveik raises the temperatures several degrees after pitching, from 29°C to 42.5°C. Natural high krausen occurs at 42.5°C and kveik keeps fermenting quite vigorously for a while after high krausen. Ferment in a good insulated fermenter to try and maintain the high temperatures so they do not go down to quickly to support this vigorous ferment (this is what makes kveik ferment so fast).

5:23:36 – 5:36:06 (session 1) Hornindal is congratulating the yeast starter, regionally called the “mariaue,” as it has “really done a good job, it is all foamy.” The kveik starter is 32°C and they are ready to put it all in the “gil,” here meaning a fermenter. They normally have the fermenter in the basement as it is warmer there, but they found down there they have no video, so for the sake of the festival the “gil” is set up in the garage. The fermenter needed some insulation as otherwise the kveik would not be warm enough.

And then it is time for the Yeast Scream! [5:27:30]

“We have done the brewing, now it is up to the kveik to do the rest of the job. We have to wait 40 to 48 hours and then we will know how it is.”

Brew #2: stjørdalsøl

There is a traditional kveik ring hanging indoors, obviously used before and setting the stage nicely. Stjørdal saves kveik only from good beer, traditionally dried yeast was stored in bags, rings, sticks, but now it is stored in freezer where it stays good forever. The locals all switched to bakers yeast, a store bought yeast, as they live in a humid area close to the fjord and they find it hard to save yeast.

Read more on traditional Norwegian bakers yeast, often sold as a solid block wrapped in parchment paper, at Lars Marius Garshol’s blogpost “Does bread yeast exist?” (2020)

And then there is the “most important part of brewing”: the Yeast Scream! (4:31:40)

To quote Roar: “many dark forces wanting to destroy our beer, the peoples that dwells below. So, we don’t dare to… don’t do it. Ready? SCREAM!!!… and skål!”

Brew #3: vossaøl
5:17:58 – 5:46:38 (session 2; with some sound issues) The yeast is kept as a slurry in a rubber-ring jar. He draws the yeast from the bottom of the fermenter and stores it in the cold cellar; with its stone walls and earth temperatures, he been able to repitch it for several brews. He pitches the whole jar into the three buckets – he does not think kveik can be over-pitched: “it’s kveik!”

But before pitching he first takes a sip of it, to make sure it is fresh.

Lars Marius: “Is it customary to do the kauking (yelling) here in Voss?” “No… we never do that in Voss…[giggle]” Brewer: “We don’t do it every time, but sometimes we do it, in secret, if we are alone: then we may scream some black metal tunes into the beer! [laughing] Makes the beer extra good, and evil!” Another: “And that is the purpose of the beer!”

5:43:08 (session 2) Black Metal yeast scream!
Can you make out what he tells the kveik?

But wait, there is more!
Presentations on Kveik

In the downtime between the three different brews, which could take from 6 to 12 hours depending on the recipe, the festival scheduled several talks and presentations. The following should give you a general idea of what was discussed, where to go to see the full talk, and how to download their PowerPoint presentations.

2:46:43 – 2:50:18 (session 1) Lars Marius Garshol talks about Looking for yeast in Telemark (see image).
He brought back samples but due to Covid they have not been tested yet, so it is not clear yet what type of yeast it is. Lars Marius has tracked down all of the farmhouse yeasts he had heard about, including their origin stories, but as of yet there is no progress on the analysis.

29:04 (session 2) Traditional beers as a source of new yeast biodiversity
Mohammed Tawfeeq is a student at the Kevin Verstrepen lab at the University of Leuven which published the Gallone 2016 paper, showing that brewer’s yeast is divided into two major genetic families, called Beer 1 and Beer 2. Tawfeeq discusses his project where he characterized and compared 26 different farmhouse yeast cultures of a total of 1250 strains to typical ale yeast strains. The fermentation was done in common industrial conditions and in kveik conditions. The fermentation performance, as well as its metabolites and the tolerance toward different stressors (temperature, ethanol, sugar and salt) were tested to investigate the diversity of the farmhouse yeasts. More.

Link to the PowerPoint presentation
Press <tawfeeq-2020> to open the PDF of his PowerPoint, or the <Last ned> button to download the PDF directly.

2:30:00 (session 2) Beyond Kveik: 3 Unexplored Hotspots for Heirloom Brewing Yeasts
Martin Thibault has been seeking out farmhouse brewers all over the world and writes about his experiences. He finds traditional farmhouse beer cultures thrive to this day, hiding in plain sight from the Western world. Over the years, Thibault has visited farmhouse brewers in Lithuania, Norway, Estonia, Finland, Peru, Bolivia, Bhutan, and Ethiopia. Although their ingredients and recipes vary from ours, one thing unites these three hotspots with Norway’s own deeply-rooted brewing culture: they each have unfathomable quantities of their own heirloom yeast blends. More.

Martin Thibault has a blog where he writes about farmhouse brewing (in French).

Link to the PowerPoint presentation
Press <martin-thibault-talk-2020> to open the PDF of his PowerPoint, or the <Last ned> button to download the PDF directly.

Further information on kveik
There are myriad websites, blogs and YouTube videos discussing the performance of kveik in modern beers and how to use it. For this blog I only listed those with direct links to traditional farmhouse brewing, which pretty much limited the playing field to the blogs of Lars Marius Garshol, Larsblog, and Mika Laitinen, Nordic Brewing. Garshol also wrote about kveik in his book Historical Brewing Techniques: the Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing (2020) as did Mika Laitinen in his Viking Age Brew: The Craft of Brewing Sahti Farmhouse Ale (2019). If you would like to learn even more, the Facebook group Milk the Funk is a good source for mixed fermentations, especially their online resource Milk the Funk Wiki. If you would like to know more about traditional and historic brewing then the Facebook group Medieval Brewing would be for you.

Farmhouse yeast registry

“Traditional Norwegian Kveik Are a Genetically Distinct Group of Domesticated Saccharomyces cerevisiae Brewing Yeasts” by Richard Preiss, Caroline Tyrawa, Kristoffer Krogerus, Lars Marius Garshol and George van der Merwe. Microbiol., 12 September 2018


Larsblog, by Lars Marius Garshol

Brewing Nordic, by Mika Laitinen


How to make a yeast ring

The Scandinavian Saga’s show the Vikings understood how to work with yeast to brew beer long before the first published Nordic books on brewing. Halv’s saga speaks explicitly of yeast, called dregg. Other words found in sagas are jǫstr, related to the Swedish ‘jäst’ and gerð, related to the the Danish-Norwegian ‘gær.’ As well as kvikur or kveykur, both linked to the adjective ‘kvick’ and meaning that which sets something in motion, related to the Norwegian ‘kveik.’

Many different methods of preserving yeast have been used over time, including the baking of yeast cakes with the addition of flour and the drying of yeast sludge on rough wood logs, straw wreaths of whittled yeast rings. For more on the history of Scandinavian yeast devices, check out my previous post at:

The most curious piece of brewing equipment, the yeast ring is mostly found in traditional Scandinavian farmhouse brewing. It would be used by drying yeast sludge on wreaths of straw or braided bark, as well as rings of small pieces of whittled wood. For this type of storage, the sludge could be dried quickly with the help of sterile hot ashes which would absorb excess water, the heat would help expedite drying, and the alkaline environment it creates would be antimicrobial. When Sir Arthur Mitchell toured some of the western islands of Scotland in 1768 he took note of how the natives of the Isle of Skye revived their yeast preserved on a wreath:

“The natives preserve their yeast in the following manner: They cut a rod of oak four or five inches in circumference, twist it round like a w[r]ythe, and steep it in fresh yeast for some hours, then hang it up and dry it. And whenever they need yeast they take down the twisted rod, and put it into a covered vessel amongst two or three pints of luke-warm wort, so in two hours thereafter they have fresh barm fit for immediate use.”

Practical instructions


Design of a Danish yeast ring, from the book Landbokvinden (Back to the land, 1964).

There are many different ways to make a yeast ring. Some are made simply from tightly twisted straw, others from strips of bark expertly braided together. Most are made from wood, often birch or beech, and most are made from narrow mortise & tenon pieces which are interlinked together. Some have a raised wedge head which keeps the pieces locked in, others have an indentation to the side. Some are square edged, some have rounded edges, and some have a decorative serration at the top, sometimes even at the bottom. Most have a square wedge head when seen from the top, and the measurements are often 2 wedge lengths makes up one body length (ratio 2:1), but sometimes shorter, at one and a half to 1, and sometimes much longer. On average, a good ball-park design to match many of the extant artifacts is about 75 pieces, or 25 sets of 3.

A modern reconstruction (left) made out of plastic with a 3D printer by George Hart (

Remekel a Bicska OCR-26-3b    Remekel a Bicska OCR-26-2b

A traditional reconstruction from the Hungarian book on whittling called Remeckel a bicksa (The knife is great, 1958).

This version seems to be the most common design and is probably indicative of the process: the many, many pieces would be carved or whittled by hand, with a knife, and the wedged end and slot (mortise) would not be problematic to create. This technique might also explain why it perhaps originated in Scandinavia – an area with a strong whittling tradition and long, long dark and boring winters.

The key to the puzzle

There are several options for the key piece which closes the loop, and could theoretically open it again. It is not quite clear what the benefit of taking it apart would be, except perhaps for a deep clean before it goes into storage (or to the museum). There are several museum artifacts which are disconnected (often also incomplete); the majority of the artifacts are connected and in one piece. None of the four key versions mentioned below are easy to re-open, and are all prone to damage when done so repetitively.

key pieces - composite

  • Key 1 (left): a piece with a minimally raised wedge, low enough so it can be pushed through the mortise. Optional: widen receiving mortise slightly as well. For cheaters: chisel the wedge off completely, insert piece, and glue back on. This key piece has to be the very first of the chain.
  • Key 2 (mid.): the tenon is split lengthwise from the middle of the back to the mortise. Then the two arms are sprung open and pushed over the body of the connecting link, similar to an old-fashioned clothes pin.
  • Key 3 (right): If the mortise is cut a bit wider than the link width, then it could be possible to remove just enough of the side wall to push through the other link. The part removed could be carefully glued back to remove all traces of construction.
  • Key 4: steam or boil the key piece ten to twenty minutes to soften the wood. Compress the wedge in a vice to flatten the wedge and insert through slot. As it cools and dries, it will re-expand somewhat and steaming can be used to expand it further. This is a known technique for making improbable wooden objects.


  • Loránt, Ferkai. Remekel a bicska, 1958.
  • Ole Højrup. Landbokvinden. Denmark, 1964.
  • Mitchell, Arthur. James Robertson’s tour through some of the western islands, etc., of Scotland in 1768. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 32. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1898.
  • Thunæus, Harald. Ölets historia i Sverige I Från äldsta tidre till 1600-talets slut, 1968.



Scandinavian ‘magic sticks’ – yeast logs & yeast rings

Likely one of the first organisms domesticated by man, yeast was kept at the ready using many different storage techniques throughout history. One of the oldest such known practices are the Ancient Egyptian yeast breads: delicately baked little loaves of yeasty goodness which, when crumbled into sweet liquid, would create a new yeast starter – for beer, or to leaven bread. For most of man & yeast’s history, bread yeast and beer yeast were the same. The user often had a clear preference, either for keeping the top yeast (barm) or the bottom yeast (lees). But this preference seems more random than geographic, as one farmer would prefer the top, his neighbor the bottom and some would save both – and the yeast would be used for anything that needed fermentation.

two unusual yeast wreaths

A yeast ring made out of sheep vertebrae, Gjærkrans HF-00244 (left photo: Hadeland Folkemuseum) and a teethy straw yeast wreath, Jästkrans UM28850 (right photo: Uplandsmuseet).

There are many different, and some quite unusual, methods for keeping yeast found in Scandinavian context. Like the Ancient Egyptians, one method mixed yeast with flour and would knead it into a flat cracker, with or without a ‘donut’ hole. The crackers would be dried, and could be stored, nice and dry and out of the way, strung along the length of a hanging stick. In our more recent past, liquid yeast could be stored in bottles; often submerged in cold water such as in a well, which would act like a natural refrigerator.

Lars Garshol (2013): “Brewers usually preferred their yeast fresh, and if they didn’t have any, would borrow from their neighbours. This was common, and taking payment for yeast was unheard of. Some say well dried yeast could last for more than a year, and, if necessary, it could be revived with sugar and water, then dried again. Given how hard it is to keep yeast alive and working well, and how it seems to depend on a community of neighbours all helping one another it’s not very surprising that kveik has disappeared in most places.”

yeast logs

Yeast logs come in all different shapes and sizes: a jästkubb NM.0041501 (photo: Nordiska Museet), a gjærstokk from 1704, a gjærstokk NF.2016-0174 (photo: Norsk Folkemuseum), and a kveikal from 1621, NF.1928-0442 (photo: Norsk Folkemuseum).

Scandinavian Yeast Logs and Yeast Rings

An intriguing piece of Norse brewing equipment, and unique to Scandinavia, is the yeast log. From a simple piece of rough-barked birch log with a hole at the top to attach a rope, to elaborately drilled and carved sculptural Odes to yeast, the yeast log captures our imagination. When brewing guru Michael Jackson visited Norway he was mesmerized by the “magic sticks” he encountered there, functional yeast logs kept as family heirlooms long after commercial yeast became available. The log would be used by lowering it into the fermentation vat to catch the yeast that would form a foam on top. Then it would be pulled out, rolled in flour, dried for a few minutes, dipped again and this process repeated a few times. When properly covered in yeasty paste, it would be hung to dry.

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A yeast log carved at the bottom with the date 1621 from Telemark, Norway NF.1928-0442 Photo: Norsk Folkemuseum,

Another traditional piece of brewing equipment, most often found in Sweden and Denmark, is the yeast ring. Yeast sludge would be dried on wreaths of straw or braided bark, as well as rings of small pieces of whittled wood. For this type of storage, the sludge could be dried quickly with the help of sterile hot ashes which would absorb excess water, the heat would help expedite drying, and the alkaline environment it creates would be antimicrobial. When Sir Arthur Mitchell toured some of the western islands of Scotland in 1768 he took note of how the natives of the Isle of Skye revived their yeast preserved on a wreath:

“The natives preserve their yeast in the following manner: They cut a rod of oak four or five inches in circumference, twist it round like a w[r]ythe, and steep it in fresh yeast for some hours, then hang it up and dry it. And whenever they need yeast they take down the twisted rod, and put it into a covered vessel amongst two or three pints of luke-warm wort, so in two hours thereafter they have fresh barm fit for immediate use.”

The secret identity of the Yeast Ring

When the Scandinavian museum records were checked for yeast rings, many examples can be found but also something else: Ulrika Torell curator of the Nordiska museet (Nordic Museum) explained the “pannring” as follows:

“A so-called yeast ring, or yeast wreath, originally used for brewing beer and malt drinks. The wreath is placed in the fermenter where yeast residues adhered and were allowed to dry into the hollows of the wreath. In this way, a good yeast was preserved for the next brewing. The wreaths were made of wooden sticks or straw. When the homestead brewing needs eventually declined [yeast could now be purchased, as well as beer] the wreaths instead began to be used as trivets for pots and pans and got a new name.”


Yeast ring made by the author from swamp birch (Betula allegheniensis).

From the 19th century onwards, it is fairly easy to find examples of wood wreath trivets both in Scandinavian, and in Hungarian, culture. The digital collections of the Swedish and Danish museums especially list dozens of “pannring” objects collected in the late 19th to the middle of the 20th century. The same is found for Hungarian wood wreath trivets, there called cauldron wreaths – the oldest object is dated to 1860. But did they not get used before then, or did they not get collected and catalogued? It looks like unfortunately it is the latter. The concept of ethnography, the systematic study of people and culture, had only recently developed. Universities and private collectors would collect data and objects, most often from strange and foreign lands and peoples. But not until the industrial revolution was it realized by governments and universities alike that rural life as had been known since living memory was quickly fading away, replaced by modern conveniences like refrigeration and dry-goods stores. Ethnographers were sent into the field in their own countries to preserve what was left, and this push for the past is still visible in the influx of collection acquisitions in the late nineteenth century.


The Hungarian Kutyagerinc – used to keep round-bottom cooking pots from tipping. Photo: Arcanum online.

Hungarian Trivets

A neat example of a wood wreath trivet is the Hungarian kutyagerinc, or dog’s spine, as seen on the table in the photograph of the shepherds’ couple dining. In the words of Barna Gábor in his book A pásztorok muvészete (The art of shepherds, 1989):

“Most shepherd’s apartments have chimneys, smoky kitchens and open stoves and multiple families cook on the stove. There is also a kitchen in the Keszthely Empire where six families cook on a stove. The footed cauldrons, pots and pans are designed for this, and the fire is gathered around it. It is natural that the feet and the pot are rusty, which is not a problem; the people consider, the goal with open fire is a more delicious meal and a crunchy roast.

If the soiled dish is put on the beautiful white tablecloth, it will make a mess. For this reason, the shepherd carries a tablecloth surface-saver, which is called a kutyagerinc (dog’s spine) because it really resembles the backbone of the dog, but is assembled as a wreath. The kutyagerinc consists of two or three hundred parts intersecting each other, held together by the parts, so that one part is tightly connected to the other.

The good kutyagerinc is that which is cramped as close as possible. You don’t need to use glue, an adhesive, for the kutyagerinc, because it holds itself together. If the assemblage of the kutyagerinc is connected with two opposing parts, it can be turned so that the heads of the parts stand in a different direction [it rotates] and the wreath has a different visual. The two ends of the wreath are so cleverly hooked up that the observer can’t figure out how the hundreds of pieces are put together so wonderfully! The shepherd does something for pleasure. There is no benefit, it’s just nice!”

The wreath as a yeast ring

Whenever the whittled wreaths are displayed in musea or on the internet, Scandinavian visitors would immediately identify it as a yeast ring. The yeast ring identity seems to be deeply ingrained within the Scandinavian mindset, bringing up the question of how old this custom could be. While there exists that Norwegian yeast log carved on the bottom with the date of 1621, there is no such luck with yeast rings. Same with Hungarian kutyagerinc, the museum objects in the Scandinavian collections are mostly dated and/or acquired at the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. A chance encounter while leafing through the 1555 multi-volume Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (A History of the Northern Peoples) by Olaus Magnus provided an intriguing illustration.

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Yeast ring, hanging outside the brewery. Olaus Magnus’ Historia de Gentibus Septentrionalibus (1555, p.445) and appears here with permission of the Silver Special Collections Department of the Library of the University of Vermont.

 On display: one yeast ring, hanging of a pole outside a drinking establishment, to indicate the brew was successful and ready for consumption. Interestingly, it was apparently such a normal tool that the use of the ring is not mentioned in the body of the text of the book. The earliest practical descriptions of brewing beer are from the 16th and 17th century, but interestingly, quite often the literal use of yeast is omitted. The brewers had words for yeast and knew how to treat it – it was nothing surprising or new. For instance, the Danish cook book Koge Bog (1616) instructs “When you put the yeast in, then make careful certain that you don’t put it on too hot or too cold, but when it is slightly more than lukewarm.” While the German brewer Christoph Kobrer (1581) includes a detailed chapter on “keep[ing] the stuff for brewing” (about preserving and reviving yeast), Olaus Magnus (1555) only mentions to use “a small quantity of older beer.” Englishman Andrew Boorde (1542) instructs to use nothing but malt and water and to never add anything to beer, except “yest, barme, or godesgood,” three synonyms for yeast. And if one might find it strange to hang a yeast ring out in in the open, keep in mind brewers back then did not know yeast was a creature, only that the sun and an airy breeze would help dry out the sludge more quickly, and that that was good. On the other hand, the ring could also be just used and cleaned, hung out to dry and sterilize in the sun, as medieval dairies were known to do with their wood equipment. Putting out the yeasty tool to indicate a job well done is not something unusual; there is a long tradition in Europe of using yeast related utensils as pre-period inn signs, like besoms (twiggy sweeping brooms) and ale-poles (the medieval variant of mash paddles).

The Swedish article by Nils Nilsson called Jästkransen (Yeast wreaths) from 1981 is interesting in regards to the practical use of tori. While it is not as detailed as for instance Odd Nordland in his Brewing and beer traditions in Norway: the social anthropological background of the brewing industry (1969) or Gösta Berg in Jäststock och jästkrans (Yeast log and yeast wreath – 1949) what Is interesting are the two photographs included. One is of a confirmed pannring / trivet, while the other is of a confirmed yeast ring. And it is clearly visible: the yeast ring is slathered in dried yeast, and the trivet has scorched edges from where the hot pots touched the wood. Note that while yeast sludge can be soaked and rinsed away it is impossible to clean scorched wood. And most of the wreaths collected as trivets do not show any indication of heat scorching, which seems to undermine the assumption of them actively being used as trivets.


From Nilsson: (left) Jästkrans, one of a pair acquired from Harlösa in Skåne in 1945, information about the use is missing. The dried substance between the sticks contains, apart from various “debris” residues, starch and yeast fungi. Diameter 15 cm. KM 47,356:2. (right) Wreath braided with sticks, according to Kulturens folk art catalog 1932, a trivet from Skåne, that is to say, a stand for a frying pan. Diameter 23 cm. KM 35.767.

In the words of Nils Nilsson, in his 1981 Jästkransen:

“Another method was to allow the yeast to dry, which gave significantly increased durability. The yeast must then be collected in a suitable way. From ancient towns in central Sweden and Norway it is known that they used to lay down a so-called yeast log or yeast stick in the yeast vessel, a piece of log of rough bark with recessed depths where the yeast mass was gathered into. The stick was then hung to dry and the yeast in the holes could then be preserved for a long time.

The same method has been applied with wreaths, which were usually straw bundles, but which in southern Sweden and Denmark were often composed of small sticks stuck into each other, or yeast rings. The wreaths could either be placed in the vessel like the yeast stick, so that the yeast flowed into the cavities, or “filled” by pouring the yeast over them. Otherwise, the approach was the same.

Wreaths composed of small wooden sticks are quite common in our museum collections. Very few of these have a clear function as yeast rings. In general, they are found as a trivet for saucepans, pots and the like. In this capacity, they still exist, usually manufactured and marketed as home-made supplies. The question is then whether the use of wreaths as a pot holder was developed only after ceasing to store yeast dried in wreaths, in other words a kind of functional retreat as it is called in scientific language. More likely, they have been used for both these purposes and that the connection with the beer yeast was forgotten after the use of brewing beer at home had disappeared”.


All websites listed were accessible as of March 22, 2019.

“The keeping of the stuff” (yeast) by German brewer Kobrer in 1581.

This bit of translation from an early Renaissance German brewing text is extremely interesting as it seems to describe, in quite some detail, the drying of yeast from lees and berm, and the reconstitution of this dried yeast for a new brew. This technique is very similar to yeast storage techniques as described by Professor Odd Nordland. He traveled into the Scandinavian back country to interview the local farmers and brewers about their traditional brewing techniques which were thought to go back centuries. He located a yeast log with the date 1621 inscribed in the bottom but was not able to conclusively date the technique back any further.



Fig. Carved yeast log from Morgedal, Telemark, dated to 1621.
From Nordland 1969.




Kobrer (Cobrer), Christoph. Gründliche und Nütze Beschreibung der Weinhawer und Bierbrewer-Practick  und der ganzen Kellermeister-Kunst. Burger, 1581.

The 20th Chapter.
One should and may keep the stuff for brewing [alternate: brown] and white beer and reuse.

One usually puts from the fresh good stuff [lees] as much as one wants from the first raw beer in an oaken barrel and fill the same roughly to two fingers widths so that the stuff has air. Then hammer the barrel closed and hang it in a well so that the stuff stays fresh good and strong. Similar to fresh stuff right away taken from the beer. But it must nevertheless be prepared and made ferment-y as will be taught after this.
Some people make a board wide [something, could indicate a frame with fabric stretched in the opening] that is two fingers thick in the middle and on the two sides [clamped?] or as many panes of a simple [something] big at the front it is two fingers wide and the whole thing is well wide stretched and tied together in the back and it has a handle made on it with which you can hang it up and then smear the stuff first on the one side and when that is dry if one wants to also on the other side everywhere one and a half fingers thick so that it sticks well on it. And well [the transcript says ‘no’, but I think that’s a mistake] ground hops with seeds and all [this would add antimicrobial protection], <?> mortared small or ground and scattered on top of it and in that smeared on stuff it should sink well into it so that is stays stuck in/on it. And the stuff pulls the hops in and dries quickly and let it stand in airy and shady place in the house but not in the sun because the sun sucks the strength out of it too much.
When the stuff is well dressed and stuck to each other on the ‘pane’ one can glue more on it [add another layer], if not, so one shall hang the ‘pane’ and let the stuff sticking to it dry.
After that one should take the panes with the dried stuff in a barrel over each other [stacked] and as often one puts a plane in also as often one puts/scatters hops above and below and cover it well and put a weight on it, so stays the stuff fresh and good.

To use the dried stuff again.

If you want it in the morning to give it to the beer then in the evening before one should knock off the dried stuff with a club [wood hammer] of that ‘pane’ and crush it small and then you pour the wort on it, either half or a full vat [like half a barrel, open on top] and stir it to each other and also pour from one container into another several times or often [aerate]. Thereafter let it stand the whole night by a warm and well heated oven [until] that stuff rises well several times and starts to ferment and when or as often has it well fermented then again pour it several times from one vessel into another to and fro like one does it otherwise with the fresh stuff and let it stand by the oven until again it ferments. As then the same thing another time pour to and fro and let it stand and ferment again, like before and not so long until the stuff and the wort has become very ‘soft’ or <?>. Thereafter distribute the prepared and fermenting stuff in the [used for beer making] containers and in each container as much as is necessary and the beer with its stuff well stirred through each other, this is called a white head/hat [the foam].

The storage and preparation of the stuff that belongs to the white beer.

One may try the same storage and drying and use also with the white stuff [barm, top fermenting foam] and the same pour very thinly on wooden boards [exact translation would be on sweated (or soldered) wooden firewood or maybe Schaiten is some sort of vessel, because it says ‘in’ not ‘on’ – maybe a description of a yeast log?] and the ‘Schaiten‘ with the stuff and the ‘Gerben‘ glue it well on and then set it on a warm oven where it can quickly dry or dry [the text uses two different words for drying] so that the stuff does not get sour and in the same way how you take the dried stuff from the ‘panes’ so can one get it off the [other kind of] board. Afterwards you wake it up and then you can try like with the stuff to store it and to use it as taught above.

For the German transcription, check out my blog post at: