I can’t believe it took this long to write about something that is near and dear to my heart…and liver.
I’ve been making a Lithuanian honey liqueur called Krupnikas for over 30 years. (And no, I won’t be posting my secret recipe here.) It’s a honey-based liqueur that is popular in eastern Europe, especially in countries like Lithuania (where my parents were born) and Poland. Though most of the Krupnikas that I’ve tasted is similar, no two recipes are exactly alike.
If you Google “Krupnikas,” you’ll find many different recipes for the stuff…some pretty good, some incredibly awful…and none as good as mine! But still…you can make it at home. I make it with grain alcohol, but if that’s not available in your state, you’ll have to settle for vodka.
My Krupnikas making story started with my uncle, who would make batches of the stuff in his kitchen. Because I am the godfather of my cousin, Victor (his son), starting at the then-drinking age of 18, I got a bottle from my uncle every Christmas…and by New Year’s that bottle would be gone. It wasn’t long before I got very tired of waiting 51 weeks for another bottle and I asked my uncle if he would share his recipe with me. He never did that, exactly, but he did let me sit in on a brewing session and take notes.
I took my notes home and tried to decipher what I wrote. Since there was no such thing as the internet back then, I drove all over New York in search of some of the more exotic spices used in making Krupnikas. I became a regular in several Asian and Indian stores, where they looked at me somewhat suspiciously as I brought my spices to the counter for purchase.
Over the decades, through trial and error, I tweaked and even drastically changed my uncle’s original recipe to the one that I proudly call my own today. You can’t buy it in a store (obviously), but if you have tons of money and want to go into business with me, I’m sure we can work something out! Or become my best friend and you’ll get a bottle every Christmas…and then you’ll be the one waiting 51 weeks for another!
Versions of Krupnikas are available in liquor stores: Old Krupnik is a Polish liqueur, and the German brand Barenjager is another. And brands like Dewar’s and Jack Daniels are adding honey to their spirits as well.
Though quite different from my own recipe, there is one authentic Lithuanian style Krupnikas made in the United States. Based out of Durham, North Carolina, the Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company (www.brothersvilgalys.com) has a pepperier version that uses local North Carolina wildflower honey. President of the company, Rim Vilgalys, the son of my good childhood friend from New York, has done what I never got around to do: make this fabulous elixir available to the public. You’ll find it at ABC stores throughout the state of North Carolina. On line, you’ll find it at Federal Spirits, based in Washington, DC…a very interesting website full of regional spirits from around the USA and Canada. www.federalspirits.com