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Making Kvas (so far it's not going well)...

 
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Location: Mother Russia
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Hello, I've been recently trying to brew up some kvas but the results were unfortunate to say the least. When it comes to fermentation I had almost no problems when trying things like sauerkraut or sourdough starter but this brewing business isn't going well so far.

The problem I am experiencing is that by the end of the fermentation the brew smells horrid and reminds me of the pong coming from the half-rotten orange peels in my compost heap. One time I even tried tasting it and ended up feeling sick for the rest of the day. I think that was a bad idea.

If you're unfamiliar with kvas I can explain: kvas is a a vague traditional drink in Eastern Europe that's brewed from either malt, flour or fermented bread. Unlike modern beer no hops is used in kvas and the yeast that is used for brewing it is the of the same kind that you'd use for baking. In Russia kvas is legally defined as a brew that has to be made only from rye and barley malt, flour, water, and sugar with an alcohol percentage of no more than 1.2% and is not legally considered an alcoholic beverage.

I found rye malt in the shop and decided to try my hand at making the brew at home. I tried twice and both times the result was nasty. First I used: clean drinking water, rye malt, honey, ground coriander, dried chamomile (tea), and fresh orange peels. I brought the mixture to a boil in my cast iron pot, let it cool down, and added my homemade yeast made from rye (sourdough starter). I tasted the liquid before letting it ferment in a glass jar and it wasn't too bad. After 12 hours of fermenting in a warm dark place it became toxic. The second time I took out the ground coriander, dried chamomile, and fresh orange peels. Instead of my own yeast I added store-bought yeast. After 12 hours the outcome was the same (this time I didn't want to taste it but it smelled quite foul).

An interesting thing that happened is that my sourdough starter started to stink too which is why I didn't use it the second time. The pong was similar to the stench from the would-be kvas. Right now I am thinking everything went wrong for me because of a contamination somewhere in the brewing process. I did not sterilize anything and my kitchen is a bit of a mess. Though in the past a lack of sterilization was not an issue neither when making sourdough bread nor when making fermented pickles. Did my filthy luck just run out this time around? Or is there something I may be doing wrong?
 
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The German recipes I found stress that the rye bread has to be totally dry before using (some even roast it in the oven).
It is then added to the water once it came to a boil. Before adding the yeast, the bread rests get strained out.

After brewing for some hours or overnight, the liquid is filled into sterilized bottles and ripens in the fridge for three more days.
Disclaimer: I have never tried it myself.
 
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the brew smells horrid and reminds me of the pong coming from the half-rotten orange peels in my compost heap.



The orange peel may be your problem.  A google search talked about adding fruit such as raisins or apples.

How much honey did you use? 4 cups of sugar was what I saw mentioned.

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. Modern homemade kvass most often uses black or regular rye bread, usually dried, baked into croutons, or fried, with the addition of sugar or fruit (e.g. apples or raisins), and with a yeast culture and zakvaska ("kvass fermentation starter")



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kvass
 
Ivan Shuhevich
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Anne Miller wrote:

the brew smells horrid and reminds me of the pong coming from the half-rotten orange peels in my compost heap.



The orange peel may be your problem.  A google search talked about adding fruit such as raisins or apples.

How much honey did you use? 4 cups of sugar was what I saw mentioned.

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. Modern homemade kvass most often uses black or regular rye bread, usually dried, baked into croutons, or fried, with the addition of sugar or fruit (e.g. apples or raisins), and with a yeast culture and zakvaska ("kvass fermentation starter")



https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kvass


I thought the orange peels caused it until the second batch met the same grizzly fate without the involvement of those peels.

I added around 100 grams of honey (couldn't find an easy way to measure it out properly). The recipe I read called for 300 grams of sugar for a 3 litre batch but that seemed way too much for me. Store bought kvas ranges from 21-40 calories per 100 grams and I wanted to stick to those numbers. Not sure what that would be in cups. Cups are not something I would rely on since everyone has different sized cups and even though there are standard measuring cups and specific methods of correctly using them for various ingredients you can never be certain if the recipe author respects that or not.

Though kvas can be made from bread from what I've read it doesn't specifically have to be. Indeed, you'd be hard pressed to find store bought kvas made from bread in Russia. Historically a wide variety of fermented drinks were called "kvas" and the word itself roughly means "ferment" or "fermented". In my case I was using rye malt to try and make it though it is not uncommon for people making it at home to use bread.
 
Anita Martin
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Maybe you caught a bad strain of bacteria if it even messed with your sourdough.
I would clean up the kitchen and wipe down everything thoroughly, including all pots and cups.
Look if you can inoculate your ferment with a starter, not sure which would be appropriate.
Remember that bad bacteria cannot thrive in pH below 4.2 so if in doubt you can do a pH test.
 
Ivan Shuhevich
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I've tried for a third time after cleaning and sanitizing all my equipment and ran into a similar issue - the third batch tasted bad and weird but not utterly revolting... still nothing you'd want to drink voluntarily.

I've reviewed some more guides on beer making and am trying for a gruit now. An interesting difference between the beer guides and the kvass guides is the length of fermentation. The minimum fermentation time for beer is two weeks and it's recommended to split into into two parts where the wort is poured into a secondary fermenter to improve the final product. The kvass guides on the other hand advise to only ferment the wort for a few days. Another difference is that the kavss recipes call for a large amount of sugar to be used while the beer guides only call for it to be used in small amount after the fermentation is already finished to add a bit of extra carbonation while the beer is cooling... this may be my issue since I've added a some honey instead of sugar to my kvass attempts which was not the equivalent of the called for sugar. I don't even know how much I added exactly since I roughly measured the honey additions in spoons.

Besides my gruit I am also fermenting a fourth portion of kvass made with bread which was a failure and had little use... though if this one doesn't taste right I will also leave it to ferment for some weeks to see what happens. Considering I didn't add any sugar in this attempt either I think this is exactly what may just happen.
 
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Maybe by using less sugars than called for you are inadvertently fostering a less-tasty fermenter than what was intended?  The bread kvass (or Estonian Kali) recipes I have seen use a large amount of honey or sugar, it is almost like a short-fermented mead.  The botanicals may only be used for part of the fermentation too.
 
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