Finding Poland’s interview section is well and truly underway.
Mr Mariusz Siek, co-founder of Manufaktura Kwasu in east-central Poland, reveals all about the kvass-brewing company’s rise to prominence, the key stages of kvass production, and the health benefits of kvass …
1. So, Mariusz, an obvious start. Can you tell us a little bit about kvass; its history and its place in the Polish drinks market?
The history of fermented products goes back many thousands of years. The oldest traces of a fermented bread-based drink go back to the Sumerian civilisation in about 4000 B.C. The Sumerians were probably the first people to drink kvass.
Many websites claim that the drink which the Sumerians drank was actually beer. However, the fact remains that it was a drink based on fermented bread. Therefore, it was more similar to modern kvass than beer. The first recipe for kvass appears in the ancient text “Hymn to Ninkasi.”
Kvass gained popularity in the Middle Ages, and this has continued until the present day. It was drunk at the court of Tsar Peter I, in the farms of simple peasants, and served as a health drink in hospitals.
In Poland, kvass became popular in the interwar period. Currently, traditionally brewed kvass has almost disappeared from the market. This is a pity because only such natural acid, according to many sources, can have a positive effect on the human body.
2. Can you describe the production process involved in making a bottle of dry kvass?
We start brewing kvass from baking rusks. The rusks include wholemeal rye flour and various types of malts. Malts are made by sprouting and drying cereal grains. We mainly use rye and barley malts. Baking rusks by hand gives us full control over the taste and aroma of the resulting rusks and, consequently, kvass.
The next stage is the water extraction in the brewing tank, aimed at extracting the taste from bread rusks. Other ingredients, such as sugar and sourdough, are also added at this stage. Henceforth, a so-called wort is formed. This stage is similar to the brewing of beer. It differs in details, such as the range of temperatures used, or the order in which raw materials are added.
In the next stage, the kvass is fermented in the brewing tank, and under refrigerated conditions in bottles or barrels. Maturation in a cold room is a process that can last from several weeks to several months depending on the type of acid and the desired taste parameters.
3. How did you personally learn about the production of kvass?
From my friend, Klaudiusz. I participated in the brewing of kvass for the first time at his home. In this way, I learned the most important stages of making kvass.
I liked the production method and, above all, the taste and properties of kvass.
4. It was quite a long road in terms of bringing your product to market. How did you keep your patience in check and get over all the setbacks you encountered?
In fact, over two years passed from conceiving the idea that we would like to brew kvass, until the first brewing.
It took us a long time to find a suitable place to produce our kvass. We had defined specific requirements and a budget regarding rental costs. Naturally, we didn’t want to invest too much in adapting a rented hall. So, we browsed through countless rental advertisements, we checked potential real estate but there was no place. It wasn’t until the beginning of 2019 that we found a presentable production site. It met almost all of our requirements. I could say that it was almost perfect.
After signing the rental contract, we started preparations to start production. Needless to say, we encountered formal requirements and difficulties at almost every step. However, we were determined and persistent in overcoming the difficulties that arose. Among other things, we had to recapitalize our investment. Finally, on July 31, 2019, sanepid – the State Sanitary Inspection unit – tested and authorised our kvass for production.
5. Restauracja LIF. Vege MIASTO. Chwastfood and Moxo Bakery. Slowly but surely, you are building a customer base in and around Warsaw. Can you tell us a bit more about the process of reaching out to potential customers? How does it feel to see your product pictured in restaurants?
We are looking for different ways to sell and distribute our kvass. From the beginning, we assumed that we would like our kvass to be sold in restaurants, which is why we started selling the drink.
We carry out a Google search for potential restaurants in given districts in Warsaw and then check whether our kvass has the potential to be sold in them. Then, we call a restaurant and say that we produce kvass and ask whether they might be interested in our drink. If they are interested, we arrange a visit to provide free samples. This is a set of four bottles of kvass in an attractive carton along with a leaflet with information about our product.
After some time, we make a call to ask them how it tasted. If a restaurant is interested in cooperating with us, we send them a discount code by email and encourage them to place an order in our online store. We do like to get feedback if a restaurant does not like the taste of our kvass, or there might be other reasons standing in the way of cooperation.
Honestly, seeing pictures of our kvass in the restaurants we have already initiated cooperation with is more than humbling. It reminds me of the long journey we endured to get to where we are today. I have to be proud and thankful.
6. Is the vegan market a key market for you, and do you get the impression that Poles are more health-conscious than they’ve ever been?
Our kvass is made from natural products. It contains probiotic bacteria, and is produced in a traditional way.
The product fits very well as a drink in the vegan market. We believe that vegans, who may pay more attention to what they eat and drink than other consumers, are important customers for us and they should like our kvass.
Poles are becoming more and more aware of what they eat and drink. As a result, the number of vegans in Poland is bound to grow over the next few years.
It is important to say that we do not focus only on the vegan market. We are attempting to reach out to a wide range of people who might like kvass, who value their health and are open to trying new flavours.
7. Considering all the health concerns which surround sugar, how difficult was it to determine the sugar content in your kvass?
Kvass cannot ferment without sugar, and sugar is food for probiotic bacteria that are found in kvass. However, from the beginning, we wanted to have as little sugar as possible in the product. We do not use white sugar, only brown (cane).
Compared to other producers, we use very little sugar, only 2.5 g per 100 ml. This amounts to only 8 grams of sugar (roughly one and a half teaspoons) in a 330 ml bottle. To compare, a 200ml glass of apple juice contains approximately 22 grams of sugar.
ORDER WITH MANUFAKTURA KWASU:
Orders for Manufaktura Kwasu’s drinks can be made via the company’s Internet shop. Click here.
The owners of the company speak English.