Borscht is a pretty simple soup to make, and as far as I can tell from my travels in Eastern Europe, seems to have infinite variations.  At its best, it should be a simple hearty soup showcasing the beautiful color and flavor of beets

With homemade beet kvass in hand its really easy to assemble.  The kvass can either be strained to retain just the liquor or used whole retaining beet pieces.  A simple soup can be made by mixing kvass and beef or mushroom stock together in a a 1:1 ratio.

For a more elaborate soup saute onions, potatoes and carrots with a little bacon or other smoked pig product and then add stock and kvass.  Finish with salt, pepper and a healthy dose of chopped cabbage.  Serve with dill, sour cream and dark rye bread and enjoy!

An excellent link to borscht recipes and process can be found here.



Beet Kvass

One of the down sides of my travel to Estonia is that I’ve had to take a 4 month hiatus from brewing beer and baking bread (My apartment’s kitchen is tiny and lacks an oven).  But rest assured this doesn’t mean that I’m not fermenting things!

Over the past month I’ve been trying my best to embrace the vibrant food culture of Estonia and Eastern Europe, which is big on fermented foods of all sort, from beer and vodka, to sourdough, kefir, kvass and sauerkraut.  While trying to come up with a short list of dishes to try while I’m here I came across some interesting recipes for borscht that call for fermented beets.  Since I love beets, and all things fermented, this seemed right up my alley, and I decided I had to give it a try.

There are hundreds of variations on borscht, but a few things are constant.

  1. Beets… its not borscht if it isn’t red and made with ’em
  2. Broth or stock, this can be beef, mushroom, fish or vegetable, but there is usually a salty savory component
  3. A sour note, this can come from either naturally fermented beets or some other acid like lemon juice.  I’ve made it both ways and will say that the fermented soup was hands down the winner.


    Wear an apron cause these things stain!

So how do we go about fermenting vegetables like beets?  For a brewer it seems like a weird concept, but fortunately its ridiculously easy to do, and produces a wonderful sour liquid that can be drunk on its own as a refreshing beverage or used as the foundation for a knock yours socks off batch of borscht!

So let us begin!  You’ll need 3 medium sized red beets, water and food safe plastic container or a sauce pan you don’t mind sacrificing for a few days.  It will take between 2-5 days for the beets to ferment so if you want to make borscht plan accordingly.

Beets chopped and ready to go!

Beets chopped and ready to go!

  • Step 1. Peel the beets
  • Step 2. Dice the beets into cubes about 1/2″ in size
  • Step 3. Place the beets in a pan or other non-reactive food safe container
  • Step 4. Add water until the beets are covered by 1/2-1″ of water
  • Step 5. Place in room temperature area away from direct sunlight and wait and let the magic happen…

My beets took 3 days, but I didn’t make borscht until day 4.  The longer you wait the more sour the liquid will become.  Its really up to you when you think its ready, but I would suggest no more than 6 days.

Beets Day 1

Beets Day 1

Taste the liquid after 2 days taste daily until you’re satisfied, I found mine to be about as sour as lemonade.  I’ve heard that sometimes mold can develop on the surface of the liquid as it ferments but didn’t observe that myself. If this occurs, simply remove it with a clean spoon before using.

Beets Day 2!  Almost ready

Beets Day 2! Almost ready

I’m somewhat skeptical that its actually mold because of how acidic and anoxic the surface becomes during fermentation and imagine that those that report mold are actually seeing a pellicle formed by symbiotic yeast and bacteria. If in doubt throw it out, but there really is no reason to worry.

If you want to try the kvass as a drink, simply strain and chill, it will have a slight fizz to it and a wonderful sour-earthy flavor.

If using for soup retain the beets with the liquid and begin preparing your soup (recipe for borscht to follow). Terviseks!


Beets day 4, active fermentation has subsided and the kvass is ready

Perfection #2 Mid Summer IPA

As I mentioned in my previous post, its not often that I make something I am 100% satisfied with, but this certainly comes close!  Just a really good classic American IPA.  The inspiration was Bell’s Two Hearted (basically my hop muse).  The grain bill is very similar, but I dramatically increased the hops.


  • 10 lbs Pale Ale Malt (2 SRM)
  • 4 lbs Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)
  • 1 lb Crystal 40L Malt (40 SRM)
  • 1oz Columbus 15% AA @ 60min
  • 1oz Columbus 15% AA @ 15min
  • 1oz Centennial 9.7% AA @10min
  • 1oz Centennial 9.7% AA @ Flame out  Hop stand for 1 hour
  • 2oz Centennial Dry Hop 7 Days
  • 1oz Columbus Dry Hop 7 Days

Mash at 152F for an hour, I got 70% efficiency an OG 1.066.  Pitched with the yeast cake from my Centennial Blonde Ale (Safale US-05) and fermented for 2 weeks at 68F.  Then racked onto dry hops for another week and bottled.  End result was a great IPA!

Na zadrowie!


Perfection #1 Centennial Blonde Ale

In case you didn’t know I take my beer quite seriously.  While I love to brew and cook I can be quite critical and it is rare that I feel like I ever really do something so well that I wouldn’t change it if I did it again.  Well this summer I had 2 beers that came out so well that I really feel like they were so good that there really wouldn’t be much point in tinkering with the recipes.  Not that I won’t try anyways, I like tinkering, but honestly these are among my all time bests.  I love hops and both of these are sure to please anyone who has a hankering for these wonderful cones.

The first, was what I call Centennial Blonde Ale.

The basic framework for this recipe was borrowed from BierMuncher on HBT’s recipe for Centennial Blonde, but I tweaked it a bit to make it a bit stronger and bit hoppier.  You could also think of it as a down-scaled Bells Two Hearted Clone.  Either way its a greater warm weather pale ale.  Crisp, dry, loaded with citrusy hops and very refreshing.  50 bottles disappeared in less than 2 months even with 200+ bottles of beer and 8 or 9 other styles in the cellar.


  • 8# Pale Ale Malt (3 SRM)
  • 2# Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)
  • 0.5# Crystal Malt (10 SRM)
  • .25 oz Centennial 9.7% AA for 60min
  • .5 oz Centennial 9.7% AA for 30 min
  • 1 oz Centennial 9.7% AA for 10 min
  • 1 oz Centennial 9.7% AA at flame out
  • 1.2 oz Centennial 9.7% AA Dry hop 7 days
  • 1 oz Zythos Hop Blend Dry hop 7 days (could sub Amarillo or Simcoe, maybe Columbus)

I mashed for 60 min at 151 with an efficiency of 73%.  Pitched with a rehydrated packet of Safale US-05 American Ale Yeast and feremented at 64 for 2.5 weeks, racked onto hops in secondary for a week and then bottled, carbed, aged, and drank.

Na zadrowie!

When they say 33% head space they mean it

Its been a while since my last post.  In truth my brewing and baking have been on  a downward slide ever since I found out I would be heading to Estonia.  In truth I like brewing beer even more than I like drinking it, which is saying a lot cause I really like to drink it 🙂

That said in May I had nearly 300 bottles of wine and beer in my basement and had a hard time justifying the production of much more, but nevertheless managed to make 3 batches over the summer.  So even after giving beer to friends and family I still ended up having to move 200 bottles out of my house in September before my move.

I ended up making a batches of Hefeweizen, pale ale and ipa.  Of the three the Hefeweizen was the most trouble.  The yeast I used, Weihenstephan Weizen 3068 Wyeast, is a real work horse.  Online they said to give it 33% head space in the ferment-er. I figured that I would have no problem brewing a 5 gallon batch in a 6.5 gallon bucket.  I was wrong!

The yeast blew the lid off the bucket even without an airlock to build up pressure.  I then racked to a large 10 gallon bucket which was barely able to contain it.  I didn’t intend to open ferment this beer but that’s what I ended up with.  I let it calm down and after 3 days racked it into a glass carboy and had it continue to blow off for another 3 days!  That’s some yeast!

So how was the final result?  Well I felt it left something to be desired.  I was shooting for a beer similar to a Hefe I had had from New Glarus Brewing that was really heavy on the clove and spicy notes and I ended up with a beer that was quite fruity and had a bubblegum under tone.  Not my best.  It was also very dry and for a beer of less than 5 % had a noticeable alcohol taste.  It definitely improved after a month or so in the bottles, but overall I would call this one a learning experience.  My notes and recipe are below, take them for what you will…


  • 6lbs German Wheat malt
  • 4lbs German Pilsner malt
  • .75 oz of Saaz hops 3%aa


  • Mash Step Add 1.05 gal of water at 143.2 F 118.0 F 20 min
    Protein Rest Add 2.25 gal of water at 131.4 F 126.0 F 30 min
    Saccharification Add 2.00 gal of water at 189.3 F 148.0 F 30 min
    Mash Step Add 1.50 gal of water at 196.4 F 158.0 F 30 min

Batch sparge with 1.75 gallons of boiling water

Boiled with .75 oz of saaz for 1 hour, cooled to 65F and pitched with 1l of WY3068 starter.  OG 1.051,  FG1.010,  Efficiency 73%

Fermented for 2 weeks and bottled and primed.  Fermentation temps held below 75F and averaged about 70F.

I think the recipe was fine, I might mash warmer in the future and I would try to ferment cooler and with more head space in a sealed fermenter.

Belgian Wit just in time for summer!

Belgian Wit is one of my favorite beer styles, and a sure bet for a lawn mower beer.  Given my love for the style and how prolific I am as a homebrewer it was sort of surprising I hadn’t made a batch yet.

For my first go at this style I shot for a text book example, light, tart and refreshing with complexity from a judicious use of brewing spices and citrus.

The grain bill was as follows:

  • 5# Belgian Pilsner Malt
  • 5# Flaked Wheat
  • 1# Flaked Oats
  • .25# Rice Hulls (to help with the lauter)

I did a single infusion mash with a temp of 150 and figured 65% efficiency to get 5.5 gallons post boil at an OG of 1.047

For the boil I added the following

  • 1.25 oz of Czech Saaz at 60 Minutes
  • 1 oz of bitter orange peel at 5 min
  • 1oz of crushed coriander at 5 min
  • 1.7 oz of sweet, fresh orange zest (wet weight, no pith)

I pitched at 68 deg F with a 1liter starter of Wyeast 3944 and slowly increased the temp to 70F over two days.  Fermented for 9 days before bottling at final gravity of 1.011


Spices: Top-Bitter Orange peel, Left-Fresh orange zest, and Right- ground coriander

So how did it turn out?  Awesome!  Just as I had hoped it reminds me a lot of the now defunct Scandia Ale from Summit Brewing.  The belgian wit yeast from Wyeast is perfect for this style and I think I hit the spicing just right.   Enjoy!


Sourdough Pancakes

I discovered sourdough pancakes somewhat by accident on my very first attempt at sourdough.  My dough would not rise.  No matter what I did it I could not get it to budge.  Wondering what to do with my brick of a dough I though why not try and make flatbreads out of it.  The result was delicious if dense, and got me thinking about how good light and airy sourdough pancakes would be.  After some experimentation I came up with the following recipe.  It produces reliably light and airy pancakes packed with flavor.

The following makes about 3 large pancakes and can easily be doubled.

Mix the following in a large pour-able container.

  • 1 cup actively fermenting sourdough starter
  • 1 TBSP Sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder (technically optional, but really helps lighten an otherwise dense pancake)
  • 1-3 tbsp of milk

The exact amount of milk depends on the the consistency of your starter, if its really thick you may need more, just thin it till it is easy to pour, thinner batters will produce crepe like pancakes.

Once your batter is ready, preheat a skillet or griddle to medium low heat. Grease with butter and pour some griddle cakes.  Let them cook for about 2 minutes per side or until bubbles begin to set. Enjoy with fresh fruit, maple syrup or add some frozen berries to the batter when you pour it.