Beer is an ancient beverage. It has been produced for thousands of years by most agrarian based cultures. As we have seen, there are many styles of beer each with their own characteristics. Many of these traits come from the use of local ingredients found in the region of origin. Still today, there are beverages produced in countries that rarely find their way outside the borders. One of those drinks is known as kvass from the Old Slavic word for yeast.
Kvass is the national non-alcoholic drink in Russia and, though it contains alcohol, is considered non-alcoholic as it has a very low alcohol by volume (0.5 to 2.2 percent). It is commonly found throughout the eastern and central Europe and is sold by street vendors in many cities. It is even produced by major soft drink manufacturers in some countries. Occasionally, it will appear on a brewpub or brewery's beer list in the U.S., especially in ethnic areas.
The first time I tasted it was from now defunct Heavyweight Brewing of Ocean Township, Monmouth County. My good friend Tom Baker made a kvass named "Slice of Bread." Oh yes, did I tell you that this beer's claim to fame is that it is made with bread? Sound unusual? Well, one of the origins of beer was when wet bread was allowed to sit and fermented with wild yeasts and people were surprised at the euphoria they felt after consuming it.
Kvass is usually brewed with black or regular rye bread and sometimes fruits, berries, raisins or mint are added for flavoring. A bread yeast is used to ferment the beer and only takes a few days to complete due to the small amount of sugar to be converted to alcohol. To our tastes, it is a very unusual flavor but quite refreshing.
So what does this have to do with our area? You are in for a real treat. A kvass has been locally brewed at the Tun Tavern by brewmaster Tim Kelly and a friend of mine, Maris Kukainis.
Kukainis is of Latvian descent and has always been interested in his heritage and especially in the baking of traditional breads. As a matter of fact, he has become so engrossed with them, he built his own Pompii oven (brick oven) in his backyard to bake the breads as they have done for centuries. So it was a natural that Maris, who is also a homebrewer, and Tim should team up for this project.
They baked about 40 loaves of rye bread for this brew and broke it up into small pieces to toss into the mash tun on brew day along with 2 row and crystal rye malt. It will be lightly hopped with Saaz hops and spiced with lemon peel and mint added in the serving tank.
I attended the brew day, and we had a fun time talking about the history of kvass and Kukainis' love of baking and beer. All you homebrewers out there should consider giving this simple brew a try on your next brew day.
Be sure you stop by the Tun and taste this unusual beer. It will give you a glimpse into the history and evolution of our favorite beverage. Uz veselibu Prieka!
Events on Tap
June 22: Garden State Craft Brewers Guild Beerfest on the Battleship New Jersey in Camden, 1 to 5 p.m., $45, The best beers New Jersey has to offer and a free walking tour of the ship, NJBeer.org.
June 22 and 23: Baymen's Seafood and Music Festival, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This year with a microbrew court! $20.
June 29: Cask Ale Fest, Chicago Uno Grill, Metuchen, noon, pay as you go. Great selection of cask-conditioned ales.