Kvass is one of the many pleasures shared by Eastern Europeans that remain undiscovered by others.
For a full explanation of exactly what kvass is, you can click here.
The thing to remember is that real kvass is brewed, like beer, using natural ingredients.
Over the last few years I’ve gradually developed a taste for the refreshing beverage – or rather, I’ve developed a taste for the true taste of kvass. Just as all that glitters is not gold, all that is brown and a bit frothy is not kvass.
Unfortunately most of what claims to be kvass is nothing of the sort. The worst examples are indistinguishable from poor quality cola, a horrible cocktail of sugar and chemicals, laced with preservatives, flavourings and more E-numbers than an Estonian teleconference.
It comes as no surprise that some of the most sickly-sweet toothrot currently sending Baltic kids hyperactive is actually manufactured by a well known cola maker who is so notoriously litigious I won’t dare to name them here (please take note, Security Police) .
But yes, the maker is the one you’re thinking of.
Balts of a certain age still get all misty-eyed at the memory of ‘real’ kvass, which the Soviets used to provide from huge horse-drawn tanks (as in vats, not T-34s) in a vain attempt to keep the populace away from the hard stuff.
Anyway, when I see a new brand of kvass I give it a try in case it turns out not to dissolve my palate on contact.
Sadly, only a few examples have given a hint of what I imagine true kvass to be. A couple of country pubs have nice home-brewed kegs of the stuff, and glass-bottled Bruveris is vaguely reminiscent of the bottle-fermented ginger ale that is probably the closest British equivalent.
Passing through Sabile yesterday, which is famous for bottling something else entirely (it claims to be Europe’s northernmost vineyard, but most of what gets sold as Sabile wine is actually Europlonk), I stopped at a shop to buy water. Next to it on the shelf was ‘Dzirnavu’ (Windmill) Kvass, the label of which boasts ‘Traditional Recipe’ and ‘Quality Mark’ next to Ye Olde Windemill creaking agelessly on its axis .
Opening the bottle when I got home, I anticipated the authentic taste of Latgale, the Eastern Latvian kvass heartland also mentioned on the label, so I checked the ‘Traditional Recipe’, eager to discover how granny used to make it.
Here’s what I saw (apologies for imprecise translations of a couple of ingredients – I don’t have a chemistry degree, unlike granny) .
“Carbonated alcohol-free drink with sugar and sweeteners. Ingredients: drinking water, carbon dioxide, sugar, malt extract (including barley), acidity regulators – citric acid, flavourings, sweeteners (sodium ciklomate, sodium saccharin, K oxygen sulphate, aspartame (containing a source of phenylalanine), sodium benzoate, preservatives.”
Presumably the label was referring to the ‘Traditional Recipe’ for the Soviet nerve agent arsenal?