The streets of Moscow used to be decorated by kvass barrels, ice-cream stands, syrup carts, milk vendors, and a great deal of happiness was shared. Now, perhaps some of you wonder…what is this kvass you’re speaking of?
Kvass was considered to be a Russian national beverage, on par with vodka, throughout most of the Soviet Union, but most of you probably haven’t heard of it. Nowadays it is losing its popularity to other emerging beverages—Coca Cola, the mainstream drink of choice—but a true Russian will never stop drinking kvass. Kvass is a child of the summer, saving children from the irrevocable heat and cooling their buzzing imaginations. It is a drink served cold, that is always ready to refresh you. Think of it as a cold soda, or a cold beer. Well, it is kind of like a mix of the two. Kvass is a non-alcoholic beverage made from fermented wheat or rye bread, and often flavored with sugar, strawberries, mint, raisins, lemons, or apples. The word kvass, is Slavic by origin, and it literally means ‘sour drink’.
Throughout the cold war, kvass even became prevalent in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. Here is a vintage photograph from our very beloved city of Riga, where we witness a street vendor with a kvass barrel, the very same image I described in my opening sentence.
Indeed, a barrel with kvass surrounded by people with cans used to be an ordinary picture of the city landscape.
Shockingly for many Russians, the Coca-Cola Company introduced its own brand of kvass; the first time a non-Russian company entered the market as a key producer. Russians however are launching numerous campaigns, trying to promote their own brands of kvass, and stop the craze for Coca Cola and Pepsi. Nikola, is a new brand of Russian kvass, literally meaning Not Coke. A funny advertisement for the company went like this, “Kvass – Not-Coke. Drink Not-Coke!”
Kvass has deep roots in history. This drink has appeared eight thousand years ago in Egypt, mentions of which can be found in the tales of Hippocrates, Herodotus, and Pliny the Elder. It is also mentioned in the “Tale of Bygone Years”, Russia’s oldest known written text from the Kievan Rus. In 989, Vladimir ordered, as the chronicle states, “Give food, honey and kvass to people.” Ever since then kvass has become a part of the Russian culture. Here is when I quote Pushkin, “And like fresh air they loved their kvass.” This verse without a doubt best summarizes the history of kvass. Therefore I believe no more must be said.