Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pour me some Podpiwek

For a little something different, I would like to post about my newest hobby: homebrewing. Initially my inspiration came from Sandor Elias Katz's eloquent and exhaustive book The Art of Fermentation. (When you see this book, the word "tome" comes to mind...). So far I've brewed various sweet wines, two types of mead, hard cider, and birch beer (nonalcoholic), and I've even started to make my own vinegar!

Some experiments have been successes, and some spectacular failures. Much has been written on brewing typical beers and wines, but here I want to introduce you to a more unusual beverage, podpiwek.

Do you know something about podpiwek? Do you or did you drink it? Know someone who brews it?

Leave a comment below!

What is Podpiwek?

Podpiwek is a weak sour beer from Polish cuisine. It is related to kvass, a barely alcoholic, rye-based sour beer drunk during the hot summer months in the Ukraine and Russia. This Polish variation is sour like its eastern counterpart, but it includes some extra ingredients as well. The ready-made mix I used, made by the company Kujawski, includes grain, beetroot,

My understanding is that the sourness of kvass comes from the sourness of rye bread, which is leavened using sourdough starter, which imparts an acidic taste that is the byproduct of lactobacillus bacteria that help the bread rise along with yeast. My mixture contains citric acid to achieve this same effect.

Not much has been written on podpiwek in English, but if you're looking for more information, try these sites:

Beersmith Home Brewing Forum: Thread on podpiwek
Flatbush Brewing Project Blog: Post entitled "What do you know about podpiwek?"
A Facebook page on Polish Cuisine

Ingredients and Equipment

If you're working with the packaged product like I was, you should have the following items ready:

• Podpiwek mix; mine contains beetroot, barley, chicory, sugar, hop, sodium biphosphorate, and citric acid.
• water
• a large pot for boiling the mixture in the water
• a funnel and cheesecloth/coffee filter
• a carboy or other suitable container for fermenting (if you don't mind plastic, you can use a clean soda bottle)
• a little plastic wrap
• a different container for storing
• a couple of raisins


The directions delightful box are written in Polish, but someone on a brewing forum came up with the following translation:

To make the full amount of 10 L, follow the information on the package. This English translation is courtesy of the BeerSmith Homebrewing Forum participant brewing-in-chandler:

Dissolve 1 packet [= 100 g] of Podpiwek in 10 liters of boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes. Sieve the liquid through a piece of cloth (filter paper should be fine). Mix 5 grams of yeast (best fresh) in 1/2 glass of this liquid. Then add this mixture to the rest of the liquid. Add 500-600 grams of sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved. Fill up the bottles with the screw cap and put away in winter for 5 days (summer for 3 days). The first day should be in a warm place and the rest in a cooler place.

I scaled this down for a 1.5 L batch, which means I used 15 g of the Podpiwek mixture, 75 g (brown) sugar, and 1/2 g yeast.
Here's how to brew your Podpiwek:

(1) Put the water in a pot

(2) Add the Podpiwek mixture

(3) Boil for 10 minutes

(4) Using a funnel and cheesecloth/coffee filter to filter the mixture so only the liquid remains. Compost the rest.

(5) Let cool to around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 24 to 27 degrees Celsius). Too hot and the yeast you're about to add will die.

(6) Add yeast. I used Red Star bread yeast, but you can also use a dedicated beer yeast if you prefer.
(7) Cover the bottle loosely with plastic wrap so nothing wanders in but so gasses can escape. Alternately you can try putting the lid on your container very loosely.
(8) Let sit for a day in a slightly warmer spot of your home.

Here's what my liquid looked like at this point:

(9 in summer) Let sit for 2 more days in a slightly cooler spot.
(9 in winter) Let sit for 4 more days in a slightly cooler spot

(10) (Optional) Pour into different bottles. At this point the dead and dormant yeast will have collected at the bottom of your fermenting vessel. I preferred a "cleaner" look for my finished product.

(11) Add a few raisins to the bottles, maybe 2-4 per bottle. (I added too many in the picture above.) This gives the remaining yeast a little something to snack on, which creates carbon dioxide for the carbonation process. Katz writes in his book The Art of Fermentation that you can tell kvass (and therefore Podpiwek) is carbonated  by when the raisins start to float, but in my experience the raisins will bloat and rise even in uncarbonated kvass/podpiwek!

(12) Close and let carbonate. BE VERY CAREFUL if you are using glass bottles as they may explode if the pressure inside becomes too great. I prefer glass over plastic because of the potential for leaked chemicals with some plastics, but if this does not concern for you, it is easier to gauge carbonation in a plastic bottle. You can also put a portion in a small plastic bottle to help gauge how much pressure has built up.

(13) Place in your refrigerator after the desired level of carbonation has been reached.

(14) Enjoy cold.

What does it taste like?

Well, it tastes like a young, sour, weak, bready coffee-flavored beer. Some say kvass and podpiwek are acquired tastes. They're right. (Did you enjoy coffee or regular beer the first time you had them?) I could only drink the stuff chilled, which is how it is supposed to be served anyway. The first and second glasses I had were a struggle to get down. The third and fourth ones were better, and I could eventually grow to enjoy a cool glass on a hot summer day. This drink has only 1% to 2% alcohol by volume, so you cannot easily get drunk from it.

So have any of you readers tried homebrewing yet? Tell me about your successes and failures!


  1. I used to make wines, and flavoured spirits like sloe gin, but I don't really drink any more so more time to make other stuff. Although really interesting about the beer as my husband is allergic to malt so alot of strong beers bring him out in a rash, maybe he will want a go.

    1. Yes, your husband might try some variety of bread-based beer, although if he's a picky drinker (does that term exist?) he might find the sour taste somewhat off-putting.

      By the way, sloe gin is one of my favorite alcoholic drinks! But I do agree that being a teetotaler does free up time and energy for other pursuits...


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