Monday, August 07, 2006

Kvass--Rye Bread Beer



As I write this, a batch of kvass is fermenting in my basement. Kvass is a mildly alcoholic Russian bread beer, usually made out of stale rye bread and yeast, and flavored with fruit juices or mint. You drink it cold as a summer beverage or use it as a base for okroshka, a chilled summer soup.

You can buy kvass or kvass starter at some Russian stores, but I wanted to make my own. There's no reason or rhyme for this. I don't have any nostalgic childhood memories of kvass. In fact, I remember tasting kvass only once. The most memorable part of this experience was buying it from a street vendor who was manning a beer barrel-like contraption (see the Wikipedia photo). I don't know what kvass tastes like, but I have a pretty good idea of what I want it to taste like. It should be yeasty, carbonated and sweet and sour, with a hint of lemon and mint.

While making kvass at home is not unheard of, it's not something people in Russia do everyday. When I told my parents that I'm making kvass, they smiled indulgently and wished me luck. Making kvass isn't hard but it does stretch over a couple of days and involved soaking dried rye bread in hot water and a lot of straining liquids through a sieve. I used two recipes, one here, and the other from a hilarious, out-of-print cookbook called Perestroika: The Dinner Party. (The theme of this book is a multi-course, perestroika celebration dinner, complete with a kulebyaka--cabbage pie--in the shape of a hammer and sickle and tablecloths made of Pravda newspaper.)

I'm holding off on praising homemade kvass for now. It takes a couple of days to ferment in a cool place, so I haven't tasted it yet. I don't know if the final result will be blog-worthy--I suspect my kvass will taste a bit flat. However, I can tell you that my kvass smells exactly how I think it should taste, and that my kitchen now has a not at all unpleasant aroma of a beer brewery.

I wish I could quote you Pushkin or some such on the greatness of kvass, but for now I can only offer these tidbits, mined from the Web:

*"Kvass is considered a tonic for digestion, an excellent thirst quencher and, consumed after vodka, an antidote to a hangover."

*Coke is ruining local kvass production by dominating the market with quasi-kvass. Kvass is hardly a "Soviet-era" beverage, by the way; Kvass production goes back centuries.

*Kvass has an alcohol content of anywhere from .7 to 4 percent.

*The recipe I'm using has the potential to taste terrible.

*You can make kvass out of apples, huckleberries or beets.

*Okroshka is low-carb. I can't wait to make orkoshka if my kvass turns out. This soup is basically a Russian version of gazpacho--you chop up cucumbers, scallions, ham, potatoes, eggs, radishes and dill, add kvass as stock, chill and eat with sour cream or spicy mustard.

*Americans are not so keen on kvass.

61 comments:

Tim said...

I'm an American, and I LOVE kvass! I've already made a batch, and my mother-in-law is promising to make some too.

She says, for what it's worth, that "gorodskiy" bread is the best, and borodinskiy won't work - but I can't imagine why... I think I'll sneak a batch of borodinskiy kvass and see what happens.

Yulinka said...

Tim--How do you make your kvass?

Oops, I'm actually using borodinskiy bread for this. This is a test batch, though. I might try something else next time. I haven't seen gorodskiy bread here, but we do have a pretty good rye called monastirskiy.

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mzn said...

I hope you will blog the results whatever they are. Interesting failures can more fun to read about than predictable triumphs.

Yulinka said...

mzn--A kvass update is coming soon...

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Anonymous said...

just tried making kvass one week ago.
2 loaves of rye, 1 pumpernickle, half loaf of some jewish farmers sour bread. Smell's sour, and a strong rye scent. Just bottled it yesterday, with some yellow rasins and a couple bottles with sumatra coffee beans (kona kvass) I imagine I will not like it but I thought it looked very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I'm an American who shares a college dorm with a roommate from Russia. He gave me a bottle of kvass (Nikola brand) after I mentioned to him I'd been wanting to try it. Well, the drink is simply disgusting. I have never tasted dog urine before, but I'm sure it can't taste as bad as kvass. I have an easier recipe for kvass: get a glass of cheap beer and pee in it until you get 50% pee and 50% beer. It should taste pretty similar to, if not better than kvass.

liliya said...

The best Kvass, without a doubt, is from the russian street vendors with the big yellow tanks.

The next best kvass though is from concentrates you can buy at eastern european markets. Just add sugar and bottle up. It's cake and tastes COMPLETELY different from the bottle kind. You can add a little horseradish so it goes a bit better with okroshka.

Seolyk said...

i just brewed kvass and theres a lot of white stuff at the bottom of the bottle... is that normal? or did i do something wrong?

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Eric W. said...

Kind of sad how many ridiculous ads dominate your comments here..

Anyway, I developed a love of квас while studying in Germany, of all places, as there was a Russian store where I was studying (Eichstätt, Bayern) called Globus. I bought a lot of квас and пелмени there!

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I absolutely love the kvass, my bulgarian friends make it.
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Kvass is like a good beer. Niumi niumi.

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Tılsım said...

She says, for what it's worth, that "gorodskiy" bread is the best, and borodinskiy won't work - but I can't imagine why... I think I'll sneak a batch of borodinskiy kvass and see what happens.

Mandy said...

Bread Beer that sounds disturbing to me to be honest. BUT I guess if somebody would offer it to me I would at least try it. Maybe it's delicious!!

Sara said...

I just linked back here from your current post. I love the idea that you make kvass! I have never had it (I THINK I may have tried it when we took a trip to Russia, but now I can't be sure) but after reading many Russian novels I can't help being curious about this--though it's hard to wrap my head around the idea that you can make beer out of old bread!

Yuliya said...

Hi Yulinka
I tried to make kvass several times using different recipes, and every time it was an utter failure! I used my own rye bread from the bread maker, maybe that was the reason that it would not ferment properly. I post my recipes on my blog, if you are interested please visit www.yuliyas.com
I'd like to follow your blog on Twitter, too

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Kvass is commonly served unfiltered, with the yeast still in it, which adds to its unique flavour as well as its high vitamin B content.

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