Do you know what kvass is?

It’s a weird word, I know.  Kvass or as we call it in Lithuanian “gira” (G like good not gin) is natural drink made by fermenting bread, berries, caraway seeds or honey, by adding sugar, yeast or natural ferment.

It’s a very old drink, ancient in a way, which became particularly popular in the XVI century and was consumed by anyone from country folk to dukes. It is said it was it was consumed more frequently than water, though you can’t be sure of it…  More than 100 recipes are known of the type of kvass that used to be made, some with fairly exotic names like white violet kvass or black currant leaves kvass. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Nowadays, the kvass that is widely known in Lithuania is made from bread. You can buy it in every supermarket and restaurants serving traditional cuisine sometimes brew their own, unique bread kvass.

Now, in case you are having some suspicious thoughts that this drink may not be good for the health, it’s quite the opposite. It is said that kvass is good for digestion, detox and is most efficient drink for refreshing during a hot summer day. It’s also rich with Vitamin B and it is said that drinking it accelerates the healing process.

 How does bread kvass taste?

Well, it’s certainly not a usual taste, rather very very unique. My husband says it’s like natural cola, and I think there are very few words that could probably describe it. It does have a shallow sub taste of bread, tones of honey and overall is fresh and rich drink. I’ve grown up drinking the stuff, hence for me it’s as sentimental as is tasty, and something I would definitely recommend trying at least once.

How to make bread kvass?

That is quite simple actually (which was a surprise for me, I have to say).  I’ve only started making kvass while preparing for this editorial a few months ago, and now that I’m making it almost every week, I’m trying to remember why I haven’t got around to make it before.

I guess it was always the idea that you have start brewing something using yeast or natural ferment at home, and you’re not quite sure at what point it becomes drinkable or is it possible that is can go wrong…

 In the end it appears it’s not that complicated and there aren’t so many ways it can wrong. It simply either starts or fermenting or it does not.

To start you need sourdough rye bread. You can either use dark or simple rye bread that is either fresh or stale. The bread should first be sliced and dried in the oven, till it breaks like a cracker. Drying will start caramelize of the sugars in the bread and add to the taste of kvass.

The pour over boiling water and let it steep for a while. When the bread will absorb the water pour over some more. Let it steep anywhere between 4 hours and overnight.

Then comes the funny part. You have to strain it, stir in sugar, honey and either yeast or ferment. I tried making kvass both with yeast and with sourdough ferment starter made out of water and rye flour (which is how kvass is traditionally made).  Which means you have to stir in a tablespoon of this stuff…

Don’t worry, by the end of the fermentation it will settle on the bottom of the pot and the remaining will settle in the bottle (same is with yeast).

So you stir everything well and leave in a warm place to ferment overnight (or over day). If the fermentation has kicked off then there will be foam like in the photo below. This one was done with the ferment, but if you would be using yeast then there would be much more foam.

Anyhow, the foam indicates that it is ready, so strain it again, check if you’re happy with the taste. The fermentation will have “eaten up” some of the sugar, so add more as needed. The divide between plastic bottles (fill only 2/3) and if you want your kvass bubbly then add a raisin to each bottle. Then close it well, place it in the fridge for at least 2-3 days and you’ve made bread kvass. This will keep in a cool place for at least a month.

Note: though bread kvass is not considered as alcoholic drink, using yeast and sugar it can brew to 0.5-1% alcohol content, I haven’t measured mine, but I don’t think it had any in it at the time of drinking.

I have only as yet tried making bread kvass, but I will get down to making some with berries and fruits. After all, I have a soft spot for bubbly drinks, and the idea that you can have one, that is home made and healthy is very appealing to me.

The recipe for natural ferment (sourdough starter) yeast is here.

5.0 from 3 reviews

Bread kvass
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Author:
Serves: 10

Ingredients
  • 400 grams/ 14 oz black rye bread (sourdough)
  • 3 litres water
  • 130 grams/ 1⅛ cup white sugar
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1tablespoon natural ferment or 4.5 grams (1/2 pack) yeast powder
  • 1 branch mint (optional)
  • few raisins

Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 150C.
  2. Slice the bread and dry in the oven, till it breaks like a cracker (about 20-30 mins). Drying will start caramelize of the sugars in the bread and add to the taste of kvass.
  3. The pour over boiling water (just to cover the bread) and let it steep for a while. When the bread will absorb the water pour over some more. Let it steep anywhere between 4 hours and overnight.
  4. Next strain the liquid and add warm water to come to 3 liters. Stir in sugar, honey and natural ferment. If you are using yeast then you have to activate it before, by mixing with a teaspoon of sugar 6 tablespoons of warm water and keeping in warm place for 10-15 minutes. (if it will start foaming then the yeast is active, if not, get another pack and start over again).
  5. If using mint, then boil it for 30 seconds, drain, let it cool for a few minutes, then add to the kvass mixture.
  6. NOTE: it is important that the temperature of liquid before stirring in the yeast or nature ferment is warm (about 37C), but not hot, or you will “kill” the ferment.
  7. Then place the whole thing in a warm place for 7-12 hours, till the foam starts rising on the top.
  8. Skim the foam, strain the kvass and pour it into bottles and a raisin to each bottle and seal tight.
  9. NOTE: when pouring into plastic bottles, do not pour more than ⅔ of the bottle. It is best to even slightly squeeze the sides of the bottle, because when it will continue to ferment in the fridge it will need space to expand. If after a day or two you see that the bottle is too tight, you can open it to let some of the air out, then close it again.
  10. After 2-3 days in the fridge kvass is ready to drink and will keep well for at least a month. Enjoy!

38 thoughts on “Do you know what kvass is?

  1. Wow, something I didn’t know! Very intriguing. I’d love to taste that drink.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. I have never heard of this before but I am intrigued. Sounds very cool. I wonder how successful I would be attempting to make this. Bookmarking the recipe. Thanks and have a wonderful weekend.

    • Thanks Suzi, you can start by making it with yeast and then all you need is warmth and it’s practically no fail! :)

  3. Ech kai tik persikraustysiu ir bus parduotuvių kuriuose galima nusipirkt juodos duonos tikrai pasidarysiu :) Man primena vaikystės Kalėdas..močiutė kiekvienoms Kalėdoms tokios giros padarydavo :) Skanumėlis. Ačiū už receptą!

    • Gira kiekvienoms Kaledoms? Nuostabu! As dabar kaip tik Velykoms pasigaminau, beje gira visai gerai ir su paprasta rugine duona gaunasi, nors su juoda aisku skaniau :)

  4. Loving the Lithuanian editorial! I am also Lithuanian and this is exactly the type of post I love to share with my non-Lithuanian friends and family. Thank you for doing a great job. I liked the short historical background. My husband is not Lithuanian, and he has been incredibly intrigued with kvass. Probably because it is so unique. He actually writes about kvass among other interesting and unique stuff that he discovers in Lithuania in his book (www.experiencinglithuania.com).

    • Hi jura, I’m intrigued by the book your husband wrote, it’s something I could recommend other to read about LT :)

  5. I always like to learn something new in the food and beverage world! This is a very interesting post and I am thinking about your husbands description of the drink tasting like a natural cola. Thanks for introducing me to kvass!

  6. I do know what kvass is! I think it’s one of the most underrated Central and Eastern European beverages! It is perfect for hot Summer days… You know I can even buy it here in a shop which sells ethnic food from all around the world. Unfortunately I doubt if a factory-made kvass can be as good as yours :-) Thanks for sharing this amazing recipe.

    • Sissi, I’m very impressed with your knowledge, especially since kvass is so rarely found outside Eastern Europe. Also factory made kvass has often so many additives and is generally very sweet, where an authentic one should have less sweet but more sour taste (though I like to sweeten up mine)

  7. This is so interesting! Making a beverage out of bread is something I wouldn’t have thought. Very interesting and I am keeping this to experiment!

  8. I am so excited! I’ve started to make my first batch of kvass! I have a friend from Lithuania. I cant wait to surprise him with a bottle of this kick ass brew! Thanks for your wonderful and inspiring recipes!

    • I’m so happy you’ve tried it and thank you do
      much for letting me know! How did it turn out for you?

  9. its a Russian drink! very very old! mostly popular in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, eastern Europe! have been drinking it since i was a kid! very good in hot summer days, served very cold!

  10. Here in NZ Kvass is not very well known- however I made a batch up awhile ago and my kids
    loved it. They loved it so much that they have pestering me to make some more !

    • I was addicted to it when I was child, used to drink it all the time, nice to hear they liked it! :)

  11. I can’t wait to try this. I have been making beet kvass for a long time, and love it, but have never tried the rye bread type. Thanks so much for the recipe and info about it! Do you think that whey would work as the innoculant? That is what I use in my beet kvass, and it works fine. No sugar, yeast, or sourdough. I also would like to try kvass made with grapes. It is supposed to be awesome!

    • Hi, what have you been exactly using to kick off the fermentation? I’m very curious here I’ve only tried making kvass with either yeast or sourdough and both work fine not only with bread, but also with all types of fruit and berries (I’m going to be making soon one a combination of apples and bread). Cheers!

      • Like I said, I use whey leftover from cheese making for my innoculant. It works great for me- the kvass gets nice and sour and fizzy. I might try using something like you suggested though, just to see how it is different and because I like to experiment!

    • Hi Lyuba, yes well, if you’re Russian, I’d be surprised if you didn’t know it :)

  12. Hi, this is an interesting drink but I wonder what it tastes like. Does it taste sour or sweet?

  13. Hi, I’m so new to this but I fine it very interesting. I’m going to try make Bread Kvass Drink. I would like to know, if there’s a lot of alcohol in Kvass because I have this illness which I retain iron in my system and my liver would just love the alcohol. But it’s a no no for me. But if it has only 0.5 % alcohol, there’s no problem.

    • Hi Marguerite, the problem with kvass is that alcohol level will vary each time. It depends on the amount of sugar/honey you use, the time it brews even, whether you are using yeast or fermentation starter for it. I think it’s usually around 0,5 – 1, but it can go up depending on variables, not very hight but could probably reach 2% maybe even a little bit more (but that’s rare), if well kept. If you cannot use higher amounts of alcohol you’d probably have to get a device to measure precise alcohol level. I’m sorry, I can’t provide any more details here…

  14. Would you be willing to convert the measurements for USA? I am doing it but am a little guarded about being accurate. I LOVE Kvass and was hoping to find a good recipe for it. I have the rye bread drying now.

    • Hi Carol, I’ve updated the recipe with US measurements, I hope this helps. Good luck with making kvass and if you have any other questions, I’m happy to help. Have a good weekend. Cheers!

  15. Tried to make my first gira from a combination of recipes but this one mostly. I like the simplicity. Tasted really good, especially by the second day.

    I’m a Canadian living in Lithuania at the moment and every year I try a couple new Lithuanian dishes. Maybe it would be fun to post something for tinginys? I made one last year that was such a hit that I had to make one every week!

    Love your site. Great recipes and beautiful food pictures! Keep it coming!

    P.S. Do you still reside in Lithuania?

    • Hi Christopher, thanks so much for the sweet words, makes my day reading it! I currently reside in the Netherlands, but move around a lot between Lithuania and South of France.
      I haven’t tasted tinginys in years, but thank you for reminding of it, I’ll have to browse through old notes for it.
      Gira does taste better as time passes, last year one of my experimental batches even brew to a few more percentages in alcohol terms after 1,5 week and tasted fabulous!

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