The cocktail industry is seeing a revival of old world, or old fashioned drinks. Gone are pages of drink menus dedicated to sugary martinis, cosmos, and mojitos. We are now seeing a return to simpler one or two ingredient cocktails. Personally, vodka tonics have always been my go-to beverage. I thought I was being quite rebellious when a friend suggested that I could have my drink served with a lemon, or even better, a lemon AND lime! Clearly, my version of creative cocktailing is worlds away from muddling, twisting, or infusing.
I have one exception in my bartending Rolodex, and that’s Krupnikas, as it’s known in Lithuania. Or maybe you know it better by the more familiar, Krupnik, as it’s known in Poland. Typically, this vodka based beverage is distilled with local honey and a blend of spices, unique to each family and palate. This Eater.com article gives a little more detailed history,
The basic recipe for krupnikas was supposedly invented in the 16th century by the Benedictine monks of a monastery in what is now Belarus. It may have originally been their affordable, home-brewed alternative to imported wine and mead, but it quickly became wildly popular among the local nobility. From there, the recipe spread to Poland, and now lives on in hundreds of iterations—hundreds of secret family recipes—made in kitchens across Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus.
The recipe I’m going to share was given to me by a friend over a decade ago. Although I can count Lithuanian and Polish heritage (thanks, Ancestry.com) my Black Rock family was more of the porch-sitting, Genny Beer drinking, cigar smoking type.
A quick aside, I was about 12 years old when I asked my Great-Grandmother, Alice Golonka, to teach me how to make her delicious apple pies. She said, “honey, I’ll let you in on a little secret. You can slave over this pie crust if you want, but the Pillsbury froze crust is just as good.” Whether that was true or not, we will never know. By then, in her late 70s, she was done making dough by hand, and with that I learned an important lesson in simplicity and time management.
So, although you can find endless versions of Krupnikas, or Krupnik recipes online, each with a slight variation in spices and difficulty level in production and procurement, I suggest starting with this relatively easy to follow recipe, as it contains spices that you are likely to find in the back of your spice cabinet. I highly recommend that you use genuine honey, not the sugar substance that comes in a bear shaped bottle. Honey is your main ingredient, and its taste will make the biggest difference in the quality of your beverage. Hey, maybe opt for some locally sourced honey and help out some farmers – after all, to make this recipe you will need a cup and a half per bottle.
Also, something to note, although you can mix Krupnikas and make fancy beverages, if you are so inclined. Traditionally, the beverage is served hot, directly from the stove, in cordial & liqueur glasses. Although I am not a medical professional, and am not advocating using alcohol as a medicine, I have found it most delicious when I have a cold, or sipping it warm after being out on a fall or winter day.
1 1/2 cups honey
2/3 cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
8 sticks cinnamon
2 whole cloves
3 strips lemon peel (2 in. each)
1 bottle (4/5 quart) Sobieski vodka, or similar vodka.
1. Combine all ingredients (except vodka) in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Cover; simmer 5 min.
2. Shut off stove. Add vodka.
3. Serve warm. Or you may store, then serve warmed or at room temperature. If storing, you may remove whole elements and return to bottle using a funnel.
Lead image by Pixabay.