Beet kvass is becoming well known amongst the fermented drink offerings now - but I have come to love the darker, more beer like version made from bread. Not only is it an excellent way to use up a stale loaf but it’s a little bit of magic as it ferments and fizzes and tastes like a very rustic cross between cider and beer.
Drink your old bread? YES! Ferment those leftovers and within a week or two that bread will be turned into a fizzy drink similar to beer that is both nutritious and delicious. Depending on how long you ferment it and how much sugar you put it - the wild yeasts aren’t designed to make an alcohol much higher than 1.5-2.8% abv - so this is not a kids drink.
There are many more familiar ways to make use of leftover bread; dried and used for crumbs, made into delicious nostalgic puddings for example. But fermenting it into something else entirely is a very satisfying use of it too. Collect your bread and let it dry, cut it into cubes and dry those out some more. If you need to collect some more, freeze it until you have enough, or if you can’t wait - halve this recipe.
I have delved into fermenting bread scraps into an amino sauce - like a soy sauce - and even better - a paste similar to miso. Any ferment that uses a grain can be applied to bread if you think about it. We are lucky to have a sourdough bakery down the road that sends us the loaves they would otherwise throw out, so we have a lot to play with.
However - after all of the playing around - drying, roasting and then fermenting that bread into a traditional Russian Rye Kvass is what we do with the loaves most of the time now. It tastes like a mixture between cider and beer and is so very easy. This is a very ancient way of enjoying bread and has ties all the way back; the relationship between growing grains and fermenting them for drinks are intertwined throughout history all over the world. But the most recent rendition that we know is in the form of Kvass.
Our relationship with grains and drinks goes way way back; The word Kvass can be traced right back in different forms to Egyptian times well before Russia was on a map - but the most modern and familiar version is we know is Russian with versions of it in all surrounding countries. Roaming carts still get around town filling bottles and thirsts as it goes.
Once known as Russian ‘cola’, real Kvass isn’t just enjoyed for the flavour and fizz but also for the energy and nutritional content. It was thought of as safer than water and as medicinal; something that could kill parasites and bacteria. Under Peter the Great it was the most common drink in every class - and used in cooking as well but it fell away a bit later by high society and as usual everyone followed suit (like many of our home brew low alcohol grain based drinks actually - wine has had a good PR manager!) Kvass then had a bit of a downturn when it had to compete with the western soft drink company coming in but more recently things are turning traditional again - just like we are here. In fact there is a Russian company making it again called Nikola which in Russian sounds like ‘not cola’. They are promoting their Kvass with a campaign touting ‘ anti- cola-nisation’, but of course there is now a brand bottled by Coca-Cola under a different name too. Happily we can make this ourselves and really as with all of these gorgeous drinks as soon as they become industrialised they are no longer the same quality as when they are made by a small producer - maybe that’s you?
The word Kvass literally means ‘leaven’ and is traditionally made with dark Rye bread. I recommend using this to begin with as the flavour carries beautifully and the drink is a gorgeous caramel colour. It also gives a lovely body to your Kvass. After you’ve made your first few successful batches I think go ahead and experiment with a mix of breads. There is a variation below using hot cross buns or raisin toast too of which I often have ends left over at home.
The first time we made a large vat of this was the most public. Alla Wolf-Tasker, our local mentor and food doyenne, had invited a famous Russian chef to our little town of Daylesford. They decided to pair Kvass with one of the dishes and she called to see if I could make it. I said yes even though I’d never really made it for anyone but myself. It occurred to me that it would be very difficult to successfully brew and meet the standards of both a childhood memory (Alla) and a visiting, patriotic chef (the Russian)? Oh well. My amateur approach has always been to say yes and regret it rather than not do it … and regret it. And whilst I didn’t get any rewards other than the satisfaction and memore - I believe it turned out fine.