Friday, October 12, 2007

Kvas: The Cola of Communism

(Above: Kvas on tap at a tram stop last June. Living Kvas, Excellent: A+ quality, says the sign.)

Wednesday evening on my way home from church, I bought a fermented drink. That’s a first for me and I’ll admit to some anxiety about opening it. I think I’ll hold it until. . . maybe I have company over. It’s a bottle of kvas, a traditional Russian homebrew made from dark bread, water and sugar. Consumption of kvass is on the rise, they say, with the growth of Russian patriotism.

For generations, kvass has been enjoyed by the wide spectrum of Soviet society from peasants to the aristocracy, who sometimes preferred kvas to foreign wines. Nowadays, come summertime and kvas vendors are out on the streets selling the drink from big tanks or on tap. In another use, kvas is the base of cool, summer soups such as okroshka – a-KROSH-ka – a colorful, refreshing soup – a personal favorite.

(Above: A kvas vendor in Kiev last summer beside her tank of Ukrainian Kvas.

If you like cider, you would like kvas. Both are sour, fizzy and a bit fermented but the alcohol content of kvas is so low that it’s considered okay for children. I say let’s keep kvas around for October and Halloween – that’s my American roots showing – but with the first hint of autumn, kvas fades to a mere memory and hot tea becomes the drink of choice.

During Soviet times, kvas was the only fizzy drink available and thus dubbed *the coke of communism* by someone, somewhere. In recent years, commercial bottlers have gotten into the act and at the moment, a bottle of the leading brand, Ochakovo, is in my refrigerator. Another brand, Nikola, has taken a particularly interesting marketing tack – in Russian, the name means *Not Cola* -- interesting to market something on what it is not. (But, come to think of it, that might be the Russian equivalent of *the Un-cola.*)

In recent years, kvas consumption has boomed with an increase in national pride. This move has not gone unnoticed by Coca-Cola of Russia which plans to launch its own brand of kvass sometime. They’re hoping their version will rival Coke and plan to market the drink outside the former eastern bloc countries of Belarus, Ukraine, Estonia, Uzbekistan – into western Europe, including Germany.

Kvas is probably as popular in Russia as cola is in the US. Commercial kvas is considerably less expensive than cola: 15 rubles for .5 liter versus 26 rubles for a Coke. From a street vendor, a plastic cup of kvas will set you back 6 rubles but make it yourself at home from leftover bread and some sugar for just a few kopeks.

Tell you what, I’ll check the current ruble to dollar exchange rate for you here in a minute. First, I need a quick break to refresh my Diet Coke.

(Above, left: The new fangled commercially bottled kvas and, right, a do-it-yourself kit of convenience kvas: add dry yeast, sugar, boiling water then cover tightly. Wait 24 hours and -- voila -- homebrew good enough to share with. . .a czar.

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Thouvenot, Delphone, (2007, Oct 3). Yahoo! News, Russian patriotism drives fermented bread drink craze.

1 comment:

Cara Putman said...

Eileen, thanks for stopping by my blog and for the kind words. I so appreciate them. And I'll be checking yours, too. My SIL has been to Russia and other former Soviet block countries more than a dozen times in the last ten years. She has quite a heart for the people you're serving.