Brod Kvas - how a famous Russian drink began production in Somerset
PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 March 2020
Somerset is home to a UK brewing first, as CATHERINE COURTENAY discovers
It was the year Russia hosted the World Cup, but there's another reason why Jonathann Cocogne and Michaela Mamatejova will never forget their trip to the country in 2018.
Jonathann says: "We were on a river cruise and stopped off at a restaurant. We asked to try something local and they gave us this sparkling drink. They said it was the most famous drink in Russia, but we had never heard of it!"
Jonathann is recounting the tale of how he became this country's first brewer of the fermented soft drink called kvas.
The fact that he and his partner Michaela decided to holiday in Russia that year, and were blissfully unaware of the World Cup excitement, still makes them smile. But then, Jonathann smiles a lot, he is clearly excited about the journey he's been on for the past few months since arriving home in Yeovil. And both he and Michaela must be Somerset's biggest fans of this secret beverage.
It's not so secret in Russia though. Once they had tasted kvas, they started seeing it everywhere. Apparently, they even have tanks of it in the street in some villages, such is its enormous popularity. It's a drink that can be brewed at home as it uses just bread, water and sugar - although sometimes beetroot is used instead of bread.
Kvas is popular from Eastern Europe to Northern China; Michaela says that its origins are believed to go back 5,000 years to ancient Babylon. "It's said to be a drink of both kings and peasants."
You can find it in the UK, but it will be pasteurised and will contain a higher sugar content. Jonathann and Michaela have tried it here but, "it was not to our taste" they say, it wasn't natural and healthy enough. From the beginning they were intent on keeping the sugar content as low as possible and they wanted to maintain all the health properties of using live bacteria.
It's not so surprising that Jonathann became obsessed with kvas as his career has been in bartending and working for five star hotels. He was familiar with new drinks arriving on the scene, but kvas got him hooked.
He researched and got in contact with a company in New Zealand, which had just started brewing kvas. Brod Kvas was set up by an Englishman who had lived in Russia for years, knew about kvas and, when he moved to New Zealand, decided to introduce it to the health-conscious locals.
He offered to come to Somerset to teach Jonathann how to brew his style of kvas, in return for Jonathann setting up a franchise for the brand in the UK. The plan went ahead and Jonathann now brews the Brod Kvas range from his own microbrewery, The Bread Drink Lab, a cleverly converted former ambulance in the couple's garden.
The bread comes from a local bakery and other ingredients, which make up the range of Brod Kvas flavours, also use quality products - including coffee from Reeds in Sherborne and beetroot from Riverford organic farms.
They have started small with their microbrewery, but Jonathann and Michaela have high hopes for their business, convinced of the potential for kvas in the UK's fast-growing fermented drinks market. Ambitious plans include brewing their own recipes and using waste bread - making the Bread Drink Lab a truly sustainable business.