Bread and beer have quite a bit in common. Take grains for example, it would be pretty hard to make bread without some form of grain to make the flower just like it would be nearly impossible to make beer without malt. Bread and beer are both notoriously reliant on yeast for their finished products, too.
There are more tie-ins between bread and beer than just these, but this should show that bakers and brewers have long held a common bond while plying their respective crafts.
With this bond in mind, it only makes sense that there exists bread that is made with beer, which you’ve probably tried before, but what about beer made from bread? There’s a style of beer out there that does just this, and it’s know as Kvass.
What is Kvass?
Kvass is a fermented beverage that originated in the Slavic countries during the Middle Ages. Still made today, kvass is most popular in Russia, but can be easily found throughout most of Eastern Europe.
Basically, a kvass is brewed by fermenting loaves of rye bread and is typically a very low ABV drink, with common versions found today in Russia running in the .05% to 1% ABV range.
Today, kvass is brewed as a beer and typically comes in around 3% ABV. Both in the past as well as today, kvass is a funky beer that’s often flavored with strawberries, raisins, and herbs like mind. It’s also common to include caraway seeds to increase the rye bread flavor.
History of Kvass
As we mentioned above, the kvass style was created in the Middle Ages, and according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the first recorded mention of the word “kvass” was in 1553, even though the drink itself had been around since as early as 988 AD.
Kvass was typically consumed by peasants as well as monks as nourishment more than for its alcoholic content. With water likely to kill you with disease in these early years, it was common to drink more kvass than water, hence the low ABV.
The word “kvass” can be literally translated to mean “yeast” or “leavened,” referring to the bread from which it is made. Kvass in its most basic form is simply rye bread soaked in hot water for a period of time, boiled, strained to remove bread chunks, and left to ferment with some additional bakers yeast added. The resulting liquid is what is called kvass.
With the popularity of kvass in Russia, the drink there is sometimes known as “Russian cola,” and is considered a more patriotic alternative to western drinks like Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
Today, brewers are returning to many ancient styles of beer to not only give people something they may have not had before, but also to bridge the gap between brewers from hundreds or thousands of years ago with those of today.
A typical kvass beer today would include a hefty dose of rye bread that’s been soaked in hot water for a period of time, usually 24 hours or so. To make it a legal beer, hops and malt must be added, so a very light malt bill with a light base malt and a brown specialty malt would compliment the rye bread character. Add to this a very light dose of hops with very low alpha acid content like East Kent Goldings (5, where as Citra has 12), keep the bakers yeast, and you’ve got yourself a kvass you can be proud of.
The finished result should come in around 3% ABV and have a definitively sour and funky character that comes from the bakers yeast and the bread itself. It’s typical to ferment a kvass in an open-fermentation setup to add to the funkiness of the beer and accentuate the sour notes already present. It’s common to flavor these beers with fruits ranging from the typical raisins and caraway seeds to the not-so-common apples, strawberries, and even beets.
When talking about BJCP guidelines for kvass, the beer falls into the “Specialty Beer” category, so it’s hard to say exactly. There are two approaches to take with judging a kvass, the first being historical accuracy and the second being the updated beer version.
They are normally dark amber to honey in color and have a heavy mouthfeel that’s akin to a soda. There is some bitterness but not much, and the tastes should feature the rye bread and caraway profile with fruits added to sweeten the beer up.