The kitchen in my parents’ apartment was tiny. Every square inch was accounted for. Yet, every summer, a 3-quart glass jar (знаменитая советская банка, известная в народе как “балон”) would occupy a dedicated space on a countertop. It was used to make our never ending supply of kvass. My Dad was in charge. Thirsty? Just open a fridge, and there is a bottle of cold, refreshing, sweet and sour, lightly sparkling, natural, healthy kvass! Nothing could ever replace this summer drink for me when I moved to the U.S.
Bottled kvass sold in Russian specialty food stores was always a disappointment — too sweet and unnatural. I am not even talking about the taste preferences or flavor differences. Kvass can be lighter or darker, sweeter or more sour, crisper or maltier, fruitier, with more body or drier, flavored or plain, and so on. Nevertheless, to really enjoy it, kvass has to be alive. Just like another, better-known in the U.S. fermented drink — Kombucha.
The process looked so easy and effortless when my Dad made it… I tried to make my own. And failed. Learning about kvass, actually, made me learn more about beer. I decided to follow a traditional kvass recipe and make it from scratch. Austin Homebrew Supply was the store where I found everything I needed, including special yeast and bacteria cultures. After making a few batches, I’ve meet with Jester King people and let them taste my dark and light versions in hope to wake their interest in kvass production. Oh well. They switched to sour beer instead :).
The recipe below is very simple compared to the whole-nine-yards traditional recipe. Made from scratch, rye bread kvass has more complexity. Since it’s not available, a home-made kvass is the second best to satisfy my cravings.
Please read Recipe Notes below the recipe before you start making your kvass. Making kvass involves working with live cultures. Please make sure your food safety education is up to date.
The first step is to make a rye bread extract. Preheat oven 325F, convection. Slice the bread 1/4" thick and toast it on a wire rack for about 15 minutes, or until dry and caramelized. It will be extremely fragrant when ready. If you let it cool to room temperature, more water will evaporate, and the flavor will concentrate even more.
Prepare a nonreactive (glass or stainless steel) container(s). It can be one 2-quart jar OR two 1-quart jars. Boil 2 quarts of water. Place toasted bread slices into clean jar(s) and fill them with boiling water almost to the top. Keep at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Strain the liquid. Discard the bread when the liquid stops dripping. You'll have about 1 quart of extremely fragrant rye bread extract.
The second step is to ferment the extract. The best starter is a small amount of sourdough with developed yeast and lactobacillus bacteria to ferment kvass properly. Add a piece of dough to the bread extract. In about half an hour, it will dissolve in the liquid and can be stirred.
Now, we have to add sugar to feed fermenting agents. During this step you can manipulate the flavor and color of your future kvass. Depending on what kind of sugar you choose — honey, agave syrup, white or brown/cane or palm or maple sugars, molasses, etc. — the taste of your kvass will be slightly different. You can also add liquid malt extracts for dark and rich kvass.
Add sugar and stir well.
Keep at room temperature (72-74F) for about 3 days. At lower temperatures, fermentation process takes longer.
Your kvass is ready to bottle when its taste is pleasantly sweet and sour, with an appetizing aroma.
Prepare two pint-sized clean screw-cap or flip-top bottles and funnel.
When bottling kvass, make sure the sediment on the bottom of the jar where kvass was fermenting is not disturbed. To carbonate kvass during the next step, conditioning, feed it with some sugar right before bottling. Add 1tsp of your favorite sugar or 2-3 small raisins per 1/2 quart of kvass. Do not stir. Seal the bottles.
Condition bottled kvass at 40-50F temperature for at least 3 days or up to 7 days (wine refrigerator is the best).
After conditioning, store bottles refrigerated. Keeping them upright helps to clarify kvass.
The quality of the bread is highly important. It gives the base flavor to the kvass. 100% rye bread baked by WholeFoods bakery is the only purchased in store bread I could find matching my personal kvass-making criteria. It's a relatively small loaf of moist and heavy rye bread, no wheat flour or any other ingredients added, $2.99.
For this batch of kvass, I used my ciabatta dough. Do not use yeast only — you'll get a beverage with much higher level of alcohol and unpleasant aroma (been there done that!). If you bake your own bread, start making your kvass when you have 1-to-3 days old dough in your refrigerator. If you don't, buy a portion of sourdough starter in your favorite bakery.
The sediment on the bottom of the jar where kvass was fermenting can be used a kvass starter. It is not safe to use it for more than 2 to 3 batches. When using kvass starter, plan in advance. Have your next rye bread extract ready by the time your currently fermenting kvass is ready to be bottled.
A good seal is needed to withstand the pressure build up in the bottle that gives the beer it's carbonation. I use flip-top beer bottles. The rubber seal of flip-top bottles can't hold the pressure over long periods of time. They are good enough to condition kvass for a few days, easy to clean, and you will never loose the flip-top. The rubber seals can be replaced over time. These bottles are cheap and easy to find. For a couple of bottles, look for good deals online or in Home Goods/TJ Maxx/Marshals/Hobby Lobby, etc. Since kvass is conditioned for a relatively short time period, dark glass is not important.
My favorite sugar and flavoring ingredient is D-180 Candi Syrup. It can be found in many beer brewing supplies stores.