Saturday, January 12, 2013

A rolling loaf gathers no Kvass*

*My apologies for the title. That might be my most tortured one yet.

So I have a few brewing updates that I need to get around to posting, but in the meantime I figured I'd post about something a little different... Kvass. What exactly is kvass? Well, Wikipedia describes it as follows: "Kvass is made by the natural fermentation of bread, such as wheat, rye, or barley, and sometimes flavoured using fruit, berries, raisins, or birch sap collected in the early spring." It's native to many parts of Eastern Europe and Russia, and while it's not really beer, it's close enough that a handful of U.S. breweries have dabbled in the style.

R.I.P. Passtimes (19??-2012)

I had vaguely heard of kvass, but the few times I came across the beverage my interest wasn't exactly piqued... that is, until I heard my friend Jenny mention she was making kvass for Christmas. Since I was working on my Christmas Gose at the time, I offered to trade her my Gose for some kvass and she gladly accepted. I don't know much about the process of making it except that it has a very short fermentation time, but after meeting Jenny and some other troublemakers at Hopleaf to swap bottles, I figured I would post some tasting notes here.

The first kvass (pictured above) was an orange and fig kvass. As you can see it pours cloudy like a turbid Hefeweizen. The nose was sweet like honey, but also with a an almost-harsh yeasty bite that I often get from homebrews which were under-pitched. I found the taste upon my first sip surprising: it was light and refreshing, similar to a fruit-flavored soda. It was not as sweet as a typical soft drink, but it also lacked the acidic bite, so it felt just as flavorful without being syrupy or overpowering. As for the flavor, I got a hint of bready sweetness, with a touch of rye spiciness, but the dominant flavor was sweet honey. There wasn't any tartness from the orange, so the soft, floral citrus notes of the orange melded with the brown sugar-like flavor of fig to taste like honey. The finish was well-balanced between tart and sweet and I did notice a rye flavor lingering in my mouth afterward. Overall it was very refreshing and something that definitely would make a nice alternative to a soft drink.

The second kvass was flavored with cranberry and sage. It was slightly more clear than the first kvass. Again, the nose reminded me of an under-pitched homebrew, though I didn't get the sweetness of the first kvass. The flavor was overall fairly similar though the honey flavor is much more subdued. It seems that the tartness of the cranberry doesn't come through the way the sweetness of the orange and fig did, though it's not necessarily a bad thing. Also, I didn't notice the sage up front, but together with the rye bread it gives a more pronounced herbal rye finish to the kvass.

I've definitely glad Leah and I got a chance to try these (thanks again, Jenny!). Overall, I found the kvass to be a very refreshing drink that could easily take the place of the overly-sweet soft drinks that are ubiquitous here in the States. Lately it seems that ethnic fermented beverages are starting to pop up more and more around Chicago (tepache and  kombucha come to mind) yet I've never had a chance to actually try any until now. And I have to say that kvass has definitely got me curious to try more of these concoctions. Though I should add one disclaimer: never try Hansa Malzbier. It's vile.


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