hist-brewing: Kvass

Owen Hutchins owenbrau at earthlink.net
Wed Jul 2 03:27:02 PDT 2003

The oldest known written recipe for ANYTHING is The Hymn to Ninkasi, which
describes Sumerian beer making practices. In it, a type of date-bread called
bapir (which wasn't eaten, but was only to make beer) is made, twice-baked,
and then crumbled in water to make the beer. I got to try the experimental
batch made by Anchor Brewing; interesting, although now I think it should
have had some lactic character.

Yeast is fairly endemic, as are lactic acid bacteria. The trick is keeping
them OUT of things, really. Baker's yeast is actually the same species as
ale yeast, but it has been bred (hehe) for rapid and high CO2 production,
not alcohol, so the flavors today aren't always that nice for beer. Several
references (I have Markham in front of me) recommend putting the ale house
and bakery adjacent to each other.

"English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other
languages down dark alleys, knocks them over, and goes through their pockets
for loose grammar."
----- Original Message -----
From: "Burning Bridges Inc." <burningb at burningbridges.com>
To: <hist-brewing at pbm.com>
Sent: Wednesday, July 02, 2003 12:34 AM
Subject: hist-brewing: Kvass

> Greetings to you all, fellow historical brewers.
> It certainly is nice to see this list come alive again.  Hopefully some of
> you are more knowledgable than I concerning the above mentioned drink (in
> its historical form-- say 400 years ago somewhere in Eastern Europe.)  I'm
> looking for a traditional recipe or at least references that limn the
> outline of an authentic method to make it.  I found a bunch of recipes on
> the web, but they mostly call for baker's yeast (in one instance brewing
> yeast) and I suspect this to be incorrect methodology based on the
> evidence.
> Here's one description I found:
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> (A beverage of ancient heritage)
> (The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1911),
> Vol.XV., p.956d)
> "Kvass (a Russian word for leaven), one of the national
> alcoholic drinks of Russia, and popular also in Eastern
> Europe. It is made, by a simultaneous acid and alcoholic
> fermentation, of wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat meal, or of
> rye -bread, with the addition of sugar or fruit. It has been
> a universal drink in Russia since the 16th. century. Though
> in the large towns it is made commercially, elsewhere it is
> frequently an article of domestic production. Kvass is of very
> low alcoholic content (0.7 to 2.2%) . There are, beside the
> ordinary kind, superior forms of the drink, such as apple or
> raspberry kvass."
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> -
> Now note especially the "simultaneous acid and alcoholic fermentation."
> won't get that from either modern baker's yeast or from brewer's yeast.
> sounds suspiciously like Lactobacillus plus yeast fermentation, but done
> purposefully.  In that light, consider this quote, from the "Domostroi"
> (ca.1550) by way of http://jducoeur.org/carolingia/orlando_kvass.html :
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> -
> In chapter 65: Ordinary kvass. To brew ordinary kvass, Take four parts
> and strain it until it is clear. Put it in a jar and ferment it using an
> ordinary soft loaf, without additional yeast. When it is done, pour it
> a cask.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------
> --
> Well, one might wonder, what is the significance of this?  IMO, that a
> loaf", ie. not well baked loaf is used.  So the fermenting organisms are
> same as what is used for leavening the bread of the period, and most of
> spores would be killed by thorough baking.  Now maybe then one might
> conclude that baking yeast would be a good substitute for brewing kvass.
> However, in one of Ed Wood's books on sourdough he states that prior to
> almost all bread was what we know as sourdough-- and he analyzed a good
> number of surviving traditional sourdough cultures from around the world
> finding in all cases a symbiotic mixture of  lactobacilli and yeast.  In
> most cases the yeasts were _not_ strains of what we know as modern brewing
> yeast S. cerevisiae.  From stuff I've read there seems to be a strong
> affinity between brewing and baking as kitchen arts, and I'm conjecturing
> that maybe not only kvass but perhaps other ancient beer forms were brewed
> with the _same_ cultures that were used for baking.  If so then using
> strains of brewing yeasts would not generally result in a flavor anything
> like the original brews.
> Interestingly, from http://www.usrg.com/script/recipe.asp?ID=107 , a San
> Francisco area restaurant reports their strange recipe for kvass
> beets!) , which they use as the stock for borscht, which is quite tart:
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>       Ingredients 1 lb black bread, pumernickel
>       3 quarts boiling water
>       6 beets, large, peeled, thinly sliced
>             1  In bowl, cut bread into pieces, add water & beets, mix
> --------------------------------------------------------------------
>             2  Cover with towel and set in warm place for two or three
> --------------------------------------------------------------------
>             3  Strain through fine sieve, or cheesecloth, mashing pulp
> through screen. Discard the bread mix.
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Probably they don't mind giving out recipe because it likely won't work in
> other localities.  The SF Bay area is known for having an indigenous
> sourdough strain (the same symbiotic mix) that reliably infects any
> flour/water paste you leave laying around in that geographic location.  So
> again, authentic kvass seems possibly to be made from a sourdough culture,
> though I haven't any idea where the restaurant got the idea-- perhaps the
> family recipe of a Russian or Lithuanian immigrant?
> Recently I made some sourdough bread and it took a while to get the
> going briskly, and I was lazy and kept putting off baking the bread, so
> adding rye flour, honey and water each day to keep it active. The odd
> was that after about a week it smelled very much like krausening beer
> (including the alcohol smell-- I don't know how the wild yeast converts
> starches-- maybe that's part of the lactobacillus' job as symbiont?), at
> which point I finally baked the (by this time very large) mass of dough.
> in retrospect I wonder if I should have kept some of the dough for
> brewing?!?
> So, does anyone know if my conjecture has further corroboration, either
> historically or through traditional usage (ideally an old family  recipe
> method from pre-modern times for kvass?)   Or refutation for that
> Thanks,
> Hiram Berry
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