Skip to main content

In Toronto, authentic kvass is made by All Stars Bakery.Signe Langford/The Globe and Mail

Fermentation is right up there at the top of humankind's list of brilliant, if accidental, discoveries. It gives us yogurt, bread, pickles and kvass – a cola-hued, semi-sweet Russian drink.

Made by fermenting traditional sourdough rye bread, the beverage has a distinct flavour best likened to a blend of pop and beer. Though it might seem strange at first sip, once acquired, a thirst for this medieval drink can be powerful. It's very low in alcohol, low enough to be sold in Canadian grocery stores. In Russia, parts of Eastern Europe and even parts of China that border the former Soviet Union, it's sold by street vendors known as kvasniki.

Until quite recently, kvass was a summertime specialty. Now it's made and sold all year. Traditionally, okroshka kvass – used for cooking and far less sweet than drinking kvass – is used in the Russian kitchen as a base for cold soups.

Unlike soda pop, kvass isn't junk: It's more like kombucha, a live food that provides protein, minerals and vitamins. Because the more authentic brands are actually still alive with yeasts and actively fermenting, they must be kept chilled, lest the bottle of kvass become a Molotov cocktail.

In Toronto, authentic kvass is made by All Stars Bakery, where 24 loaves of day-old rye go into each 200-litre batch, along with a little sugar, some raisins and bacterial culture. The result is a semi-sweet, beer-ish drink with a thick, creamy head.

Russian Canadian

Simple, not too sweet, and perfectly refreshing, this riff on the classic rye and Coke is more dry and, we dare say, a tad more cosmopolitan.

A few cubes of ice

1 1/2 oz (45 mL) Canadian rye

1 tbsp (15 mL) fresh lemon juice

6 oz (180 mL) well-chilled kvass

Lemon wedge for garnishing, washed

Into a rocks glass, add ice, Canadian rye, lemon juice and kvass. Garnish with a lemon wedge. To achieve a creamy, beer-like head, pour kvass from a great height.