Recipe: Hot Honey Lemon with Vodka (Central Asia/Eastern Europe)

It’s that time of year. Coughing. Sniffling. Sneezing. Right about now we all need a hug. And a big blast of disinfectant. Oh, and let’s face it, something pretty. This lemony, sweet, cinnamony, vodka-tastic drink – popular all over central Asia and eastern Europe – takes care of it all. I especially love that the honey makes drinking it a huge bear hug (and would please grown-up Winnie the Pooh, I’m sure).

The vodka is totally optional (Ava loved her booze-free version) but it does help scrub the body of germs. And, overall, it’s better than a trip to the pharmacy. Unless, of course, you go to a Kyrgyz one. Any excuse to travel…

Drug store in Tamchy, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Vmenkov.

Makes 1 quart


1/2 cup honey (agave for vegans)
4 cups water
1 lemon, zested and sliced
1-2 cinnamon sticks
Vodka, to taste

You might also like to add fresh ginger or other spices… this can be done to taste.


Tonight, celebrate the end of long week with the region’s answer to the ever-popular mulled wine. Even my honey bear raises his arms to cheer when I make it.

There’s almost nothing to do. Give the little honey bear a big squeeze, add strips of lemon zest, the cinnamon stick and water to a medium pot. Stir to combine, cover and bring to a simmer.

Simmer 30-45 minutes, or until the cinnamon flavor fully infuses the drink and your house smells like “wonderful.” Pour the resulting tea into glass mugs with lemon slices. The lemon slices not only punch up the flavor and disinfecting qualities, but they also make the drink so, so pretty. If you’re feeling brave, add vodka to taste.

Sip hot and daydream yourself away to Kyrgyzstan.

Tian Shan mountain range which goes through Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Chen Zhao.

I’m willing to bet if you drink this every day you’ll never get sick again.

P.S. If you’re feeling wild, see if you can drink this through a cinnamon stick. Like a straw.

Sibble slurble slurp! Ahhh….

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  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    That does sound good! I think I’ll be skipping the vodka right now though. Maybe some other time.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I’ve read that if you accept just one sip of vodka in this region then the host becomes a virtual waterfall, offering more, and more, and even more. Guidebooks suggest that, if you don’t want to get drunk, the best bet is to politely decline even the smallest taste, claiming religious or medical reasons. Who knew!

      • Jessica Bennett says:

        Yes, many cultures have that trait. My childhood friend’s family from Georgia was like that. Here, have a drop of vodka. . . and a little more. . . and a little more. . . My parents picked me up one night, and they were celebrating their 2 year old daughter’s birthday. My parents were offered so much vodka, looking back, I should have been worried about my father driving us home.

      • elisa waller says:

        Party time….:-)

  2. When my sister was in the Ukraine visiting her husband’s family several years ago, she found that it was easier to find vodka than it was to find water. Little old ladies on the street were selling vodka. Her husband’s grandmother could drink her under the table (5 shots with dinner? No problem!) and my sister’s no lightweight! lol.

    (I need to try this, it sounds amazingly yummy)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Grandmother having 5 shots with dinner – I laughed out loud at that image… wow. I’d be floored with 3 shots.

  3. …can’t drink Vodka…it leaves me destroyed….

  4. aunty eileen says:

    Of course lemon and even a drop of vodka now and then for health is ok… but be careful…
    with lemon for sure it could damage enamel on teeth… better to think moderation
    and good to rinse mouth out after drinking and/or eating. Also too much ‘hot’ spices could
    damage throat….

  5. elisa waller says:

    OMG I wonder if a little grated fresh ginger would be good with this…do they use ginger? This is a true delight..thank you!

  6. Hi Sasha:

    As you noted, many Kyrgyz drink this without vodka – its called Bal and can be made with any number of spices – such as black pepper, bay leaves, ginger, cloves etc to go along with the honey and water. For variation throw in some orange zest instead of lemon – or leave citrus out altoghether. Experiment to see what you like – they do!

    Although not authentic Kyrgyz, I make a Bal iced-tea for Baltimore’s hot, steamy summers as well.


    • Jessica Bennett says:


      Saw your “name” and that you mentioned Baltimore. I remember there used to be a cafe there called Silk Road. Are you affiliated with that or just a coincidence?

    • Laura,

      I’d really like to have your Bal iced-tea recipe for our hot Charlotte weather…please :)

  7. Ohh how fun it is to see this under kyrgystan – im polish and i always remember the adults having this at family gatherings during my childhood, they added all the ingredients to tea though. I never tried it, i still think it’s sounds so weird and i don’t understand our afection for vodka haha. This without vodka would be delicious to me!

  8. Just made this for my dad, who is a little sniffly today. We had Absolut Mandarin vodka at home, so I had 2 lemon slices and part of an orange (poked toothpick holes in the orange) soaking in the vodka at the bottom of the mug while the honey/lemon was simmering. Delicious!! Next time, I’m trying this with ginger and cloves! Thanks!!

  9. Hi Sasha!

    I so appreciate the beauty and quality of all of your posts, but must tell you that honey is not a vegan substance. However, for your vegan readers, they may substitute Agave Nectar for the honey with similar effect.

    Thanks for sharing all your wonderful creativity with all of us!!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      You are right. This is an odd ingredient. A year ago or so I asked for vegan people’s opinions on honey. They said the recipes should be filed under vegan if that’s the only ingredient that’s non-vegan because it’s easily substituted and they would hate to miss those recipes simply because honey is in the ingredients. (hope that makes sense). I will update it with a note about agave to make this more clear. Thanks Barbara!

  10. I cheated a bit… We were looking for a keep warm adult beverage for a camping trip we’re on. I didn’t have time to make it per instruction. I tossed a lemon, two cinnamon sticks, honey and hot water in my magic bullet (blender) and blended everything. Put into a plastic container and filled the rest of the way with water. Later at camp, heated the mix up in our camp kettle, added vodka and it was quite amazing! Thanks for the recipe!!!

  11. Mom’s from Alabama and makes lemon tea for a cold every wi ter with out the cinnamon. I’ll tell her to add it next time.


  1. […] The next morning, squeeze out the ginger (Tip: add the juices to some hot water, vodka and honey for a lovely sipper). […]

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