While the rich, nutrient-packed German lager known as doppelbock is the one most often called “liquid bread,” there’s another beer style much more deserving of that nickname: kvass.
If you’ve ever traveled to a country in the Slavic region—Russia, Uzbekistan, Latvia and the like—you’ve probably encountered this dark, slightly sour, bready brew. Modern versions of kvass can be found on the streets and in the stores of the area, sold from the tap by street vendors or in plastic two-liter bottles; you can actually find some non-alcoholic versions sold alongside soda. It’s been a cornerstone drink of the region for centuries (it’s even mentioned in the works of Dostoyevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy) but, as is common with the more ancient beer styles, its exact origins are still unknown.
Historians seem to agree on a few things, however: Kvass is low-ABV (usually around 2%), acidic (thanks to fermentation by lactic acid-producing bacteria) and is made with rye bread or flour (though combinations of wheat, sourdough and brewing grains are common today). Sometimes, adjuncts such as mint or fruits like lemons, raisins or strawberries are added to balance the beer’s acidity.
If this is the first you’ve heard of kvass, don’t feel left out—the style’s largely been ignored by brewers in the U.S.—that is, until recently. In the past few years, adventurous brewers have begun toying with the ancient, loafy brew.
Scratch Brewing Co. is one of these. The Ava, Illinois-based brewery began making kvass around the time its onsite kitchen began producing sourdough bread.
“There were weekends we’d have leftover bread, so it’s a good way to use it,” says Scratch founder and co-owner Marika Josephson. “It was natural for us to take that dry bread and turn it into beer.”
To make their kvass, Scratch’s brewers soak toasted leftover loaves in hot water overnight. In the morning, the liquid is separated from the soggy bread, moved into a mash tun and combined with standard brewing malt (unlike most historical versions). From there, it’s treated like a typical beer, though brewers don’t add hops and they ferment the wort with the same sourdough yeast culture used in Scratch’s bread.
So how’s kvass taste? “It’s different depending on the bacteria culture or yeast strain people are using, but we get a lot of apple and pear notes,” Josephson says. “The bread we make here has salt in it, so when you mash the bread overnight the salt comes out into the liquid. In some ways, our kvass is a little bit like a gose, and you can taste the salt kind of moderating the tartness.”
And the response? “People love them. I think the same way that people have gravitated to gose as a sort of lower-ABV sour ale, they also like kvass for the same reasons.”
A FEW MORE TO TRY:
Jester King Kvass: Malted barley, malted rye and 140 pounds of bread from Austin’s Miche Bread went into the mash for Jester King’s Kvass, giving it a prominent grainy rye character and soft doughy finish to balance rustic, saisonlike funk.
Fonta Flora Farm and Sparrow: Brewed with rye bread loaves, rye malt, raisins and maple syrup, Fonta Flora’s version exhibits plenty of dark bread in the nose but leans ciderlike in the flavor, with bright tart apples swirling in the sip before a fennel-and-peppercorn finish.