Notes on Making Kvass

For Carolingia's Baronial Investiture event (June 8, 2002, AS 37), I was asked to produce kvass to be served with the Russian course. My research started with surveying some available recipes. The only period recipe that I know of is from the Domostroi, a 16th century Russian household handbook. The notes I have are from the translation made by Carolyn Johnston Pouncy, published by Cornell University (1994, ISBN 0-8014-2410-0):

which is not terribly informative. (Four parts honey to how much water and bread?) Modern recipes that I could find had evolved significantly from the period model:

Armed with all sorts of knowledge on kvass, none of it precisely what I needed, I set to work. I started by buying a 5lb sack of rye flour and making bread, and tried out several variations. Specifically, I tried with and without mint and raisins, whether to toast or dry the bread beforehand, how much sweetener to add, whether that sweetener should be sugar or honey, how thoroughly to strain the liquid, when to do this straining, what sort of yeast to use, and how long to ferment the liquid.

Using mint and raisins changed the color (I had dried mint on hand), and wasn't particularly better, and didn't seem to follow the period model, so I decided not to add them.

Toasting the bread gave a "deeper" tone to the drink, as well as a bit of "burnt" flavor. Working with fresh bread resulted in less flavor being extracted into the water. There seems to be a better etymological for using non-toasted bread, though many modern recipes employ toast. In the end, I decided to go with dried but not toasted: it seems reasonable that this would have been a way to use up old bread, and I got more bread flavor in the drink that way.

As the period sweetener would have been honey, I choose that over sugar.

As I was looking to make a less-than-0.5% alcohol beverage (so it could be served at a dry site), I took a minimal fermentation time of eight hours.

The issue of straining proved the most challenging. If I put the bread in water, then sweetened and added yeast, then when the overnight fermentation was done, the bread particles would be impossible to remove. Furthermore, when the bottles were later opened, any settling would be obliterated by the resultant foam. To avoid these 'sludgy bits', I had to soak the bread, then siphon off the clear liquid, and ferment that. The problem is that the former was both tastier on some accounts, and likely to be more period. In the end, the latter method won out, partly out of concern that people would find it too strange otherwise, but mostly because the people trying this would require their glasses for other beverages afterwards.

I tried bread yeast and wine yeast, and found that the bread yeast yielded a fine product, and as it seemed more authentic, went with that.

Orlando's Recipe for Kvass

Part I: Rye Bread

Take a pound of rye flour, add water and yeast to make dough, let it rise, and bake it. This is a very basic rye bread. It will be quite dense, and probably suitable for making melba toasts. Cube the bread, and set it out on trays to dry. This may take a day or two, depending on the humidity.

Part II: Liquid Extract

Take a loaf-worth of dried out rye from Part I, and put it in a jar. Boil two quarts of water, and pour it over the bread. Cover and let sit 8-12 hours. Agitating it after has cooled to lukewarm, and again 1/2 hour before the end, helps more of the bread-ness to get into the water. Take a siphon hose and siphon off the clear. You should get almost a quart of liquid per loaf. Try to avoid even the white layer between the sediment and the clear, but don't worry overmuch if you get some. If you are doing this in stages, you may refrigerate this liquid while you await the completion of other batches.

Part III: Finishing

Take the liquid from Part II and add honey per quart of liquid. Put the liquid in a vessel with a vapor lock, proof bread yeast and pitch it in, and let it sit eight hours. Then put it in bottles and put them immediately in the refrigerator. Only remove them to serve or transport, transport packed in ice. When you open the bottle, do so angled downward over a large container -- it will make a lot of foam. Allow a minute for the excess foam to dissipate.


You get a lot of rye sludge as a byproduct. This can be used as gruel, or simply tossed (especially if it is lumpy). It may be better to add the honey (in greater quantity) to the initial water; I added it later to save on costs. You can expect to spend similar amounts on flour, yeast, and honey if, as I did, you get the flour in 5 lb sacks and the yeast in 4 oz jars. I spent $80 on consumed supplies making 10 gallons. I'm happy to report that kvass was the surprise hit of the feast -- people really enjoyed it. I hope that your experience with kvass is as pleasant.

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