Recipe: Lithuanian Honey Spirits (Krupnikas)

The holidays are over. We stuffed our wrapping paper back into the closet and swept the confetti into the trash, right on top of the party hats that say 2012. The cookies and the friendly buffets of family favorites are long since gone, replaced by soulless detoxes and way-too-skinny drinks.

I know some of us are even thinking about spring – scanning the frozen ground, vainly hoping to see some stray spot of green, willing a warm gust of air to come our way, instead of a moveable wall of ice.

But can we just… pause for a second, in the interest of good planning? Would you be very mad if I asked you to make a few presents for next year? Right… now?

Hear me out.

They say Lithuania has the largest collection of amber in the world – known as the gold of the baltics – but I uncovered a far more enticing “gold” in their liquor cabinets: Krupnikas, or Honey Spirits. This boozy drink tastes like heaven on fire – a sweet, fragrant blend that is almost too complex to describe… sure there’s honey, but there’s also orange peel, an entire vanilla bean, ginger, cardamom, allspice, and so much more. Krupnikas is my own photo. Amber rocks by Lanzi. Amber necklaces by Adrian Pingstone. The layers of flavor are baffling, considering the modicum of effort involved (dump in a pot and cook, then let settle and mellow). You can make a half gallon of Honey Spirits to bottle and save for next holiday’s giving season in less than an hour. Heck, you can wear your pajamas while you work, if you’d like.

While Krupnikas is ready to drink just two weeks after you make it (I can personally attest to this), the drink mellows and becomes even better six months to a year later. UPDATE: It’s better a year later, but you can drink well beyond that time – there’s no expiration date on the drink.

Getting done with next year’s holidays in January? Now that’s a golden opportunity.

Makes a little over 2 quarts

Ingredients:

All spices should be cracked lightly if possible to maximize flavor.

8 whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks
10 cardamom pods, cracked
1/2 nutmeg seed, cracked
5 allspice berries
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seed
3 inch piece of ginger root, cut into 4 pieces
2 inch piece turmeric, cut into 4 pieces
The peel of 1 orange
The peel of 1/2 a lemon
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 1/2 lbs honey

1 quart water
750 ml Everclear (190 proof grain alcohol)

Method:

Take a stroll through your kitchen and gather up all the spices… you’ll need a large heart to hold all this goodness. Next, bring the honey and water to a simmer. Skim off any foam that surfaces, then add in all the spices (everything but the Everclear). Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the mixture smells like “good” and tastes even better.Meanwhile, take a walk in the crunchy snow and listen to the clouds whisper.

Pier in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Photo by Kontis Satunas.

When you’re done, go home and remove the pot from heat. Add the Everclear to the still-hot mixture, stir to combine and then strain the mixture. (Tip: use the spices again to flavor a vanilla ice cream base, chocolate, flan, etc- yummmmm) Pour the golden goodness into sterile bottles (run them through the dishwasher before using) and set aside for two weeks (or up to a year). Explore your world while you wait, even if you just go down the street a little ways.

Vilnius, Lithuania at dusk.

Through the quiet of this winter, the heat of next summer and the chill of autumn, the spirits will settle. They’ll go from super cloudy… And end up clear as day. Just like a well-traveled human spirit. But don’t be fooled. Even in this clarity, there is depth and an entire universe of flavor.The gunk that settles on the bottom of the bottle is perfectly safe. Some Lithuanians like to shake their Krupnikas up, while others go so far as to filter it out. I love the idea of using it to add a bit of boozy oomph to a fruitcake.

Distribute the bottles to friends and family who could use a sweet sip of love. And be sure to save a bottle for yourself and sip until you feel like you’re glowing, from the inside out.

Norviliškės Castle, Lithuania. Photo by Ampyx.

Now that my friends, is Lithuanian Gold.

Sip with friends, family, and – when you’re done – do it all over again.

Enjoy!

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Comments

  1. Jessica Bennett says:

    That’s some strong stuff! It looks so pretty though and sounds delicious. I may try to make it one day.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      The honey makes it relatively smooth, especially if you sip it very slowly. This is not something one should kick back too quickly, for sure.

  2. Kate Machin says:

    This sounds divine! Can you confirm one thing for me though? When do you add the alcohol – after you’ve strained out the spices?? Thanks!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Hi Kate – add it right after you turn off the heat, before you strain it… I just updated the recipe. I’d love to know what you think, if you do end up making it :)

      • Kate Machin says:

        Thanks Sasha – will let you know how it turns out. I’m currently not drinking alcohol (pregnant), so will have to let it sit for a few months. Hopefully it will be nice and mellow by then!

  3. Looks lovely! I love your bottle collection too. When you drink it, you need to say “į sveikatą”, which means “cheers” in Lithuanian, or if you translate it literally it means “to your health”. (and quite appropriately in this instance, since Lithuanians believe that Krupnikas heals, well, at least your soul:)

  4. Thank you for sending my way! I am so making this!!! (I have a batch of apple cocktail bitters that didn’t quite make it by the holidays. Oh well, who doesn’t like gifts in January??)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Awesome! I hope you love it as much as I do… and that’s saying a lot, since I’m not usually a straight-shooter kind of gal :)

  5. Your writing is really getting excellent, just like the photography. Lovely post!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Thanks Mette! It’s funny you should say that; I worked on this post after going to my writer’s group and sharing some of the Krupnikas. Not sure which helped more… ;)

  6. elisa waller says:

    this is a keeper…I mean a sipper!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    What a great gift idea..thank you….and I must agree your writing is great…not only is it an easy read..but the simplicity of your style is magically full of information…..<3

  7. This sounds great! I’m puzzled by the 2-inch piece of turmeric, though. I think I’ve only ever seen powdered, which would surely be a disaster in this. I had no idea turmeric even came in pieces! What’s it look like? Is it a root?

  8. Hi Sasha,

    Questions about substitutions. I live in Newfoundland (the place that food forgot) and whole turmeric and Everclear simply do not exist here. Any ideas what I could use in their place?

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Ali, you can substitute saffron for the turmeric (the main idea is to add a golden color).. as for everclear, you’re basically looking for any 190 proof alcohol (because it gets “watered down” by the honey and water). I bet your liquor store has something like this. Otherwise, I’ve heard of people making this with vodka, but it’ll end up much weaker.

      • Sasha Martin says:

        PS – Nice to have you, all the way from Newfoundland! :)

        • Thanks! I can definitely get saffron — I wasn’t sure if it was a flavour thing or not. Newfoundlanders do like their drink, so I’m sure I can find something up there in the proofs … might end up being moonshine though!

          • Actually, you might not be able to find anything with that kind of proof in Newfoundland. Some countries set a maximum proof that can be sold and you may have to use vodka (I’m an American living in England). The good news is that I use vodka for any recipe calling for Everclear, and you do get good results. It will probably be weaker, but it won’t be weak.

            • Good to know, Janet. Wikipedia tells me I can only get it in Alberta, which is all the way across the country. I’ll ask at the liquor store and see what they can tell me.

  9. Oh my gosh!!!! I can’t wait to try :)

  10. Wow! I’m Lithuanian and this post made my day (and made me a little homesick!). I keep meaning to make krupnikas, but the holidays are always so hectic! I guess I can do it now and keep it around till next year (if it sticks around that long).

    Thank you!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I think that’s a great idea! It’s always good to make several small bottles, instead of one or two large ones, because then you can crack one open without feeling quite so guilty ;)

  11. Hi Sasha, I have just discovered your blog after seeing this drink on tastespotting. It’s quite rare to see any Lithuanian dishes made, even more by someone who’s not Lithuanian, and you have done a marvelous job here! The color of Krupnikas turned out just perfect, i sveikata! :) Looking forward to more of your posts! :)

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Welcome! I’m so glad you found your way to this little tribute to your homeland. And I’m glad the color is right… it is so delicious (and that’s saying a lot considering I don’t drink hard stuff). :)

  12. I will definitely be making this one and THANK YOU for the idea of doing them as Christmas presents!

  13. I saw this posted on liquirious and just had to stop by to say Labas (hello in Lithuanian).

    Krupnikas is truly a wonderful drink! These are some great pictures, and it’s altogether a fantastic and reasonably easy-to-make homemade liqueur. As you mentioned, its very complex yet still very smooth. And those bottles look gorgeous!

    I’ve been working on my own Krupnikas recipe for a few years now. It’s gotten so popular that we’re starting a small distillery in Durham, NC called The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company. Krupnikas will be our first product. We’re currently raising the seed money to get underway. News about our progress will be on our website and facebook:
    http://krupnikas.wordpress.com/

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! I sveikata!
    -Rim

  14. I finally made this! Haven’t tried it yet, but so excited to :) If you’re interested, here’s the blog I did on it: http://sojournerfood.blogspot.com/2012/03/sweet-as-honey.html

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Katie.. yay! I’m so happy you tried the recipe. It looks beautiful and I’m sure it’ll be tasty :) Congrats for taking a stab at this fun and yummy drink…

  15. Making it today! The house smells like Christmas as the pot simmers and the bottles are in the dishwasher being sanitized. This is gonna be good!

  16. The recipe is missing the star anise … not easy to find but adds a beautiful licorice tone to the honey. Every village had their own “take” on this recipe and the star anise seems to be a secret or hidden ingredient from the old country. It took my father years to talk our original immigrant into telling!

  17. Hi,

    I have been gathering the ingredients for a batch but cannot find tumeric root locally. I live in Vermont. Would there be a substitute or in your opinion should I order the root online? Thanks, Carol

    • Sasha Martin says:

      You could use a bit of dried or some saffron threads. The turmeric helps with the color but doesn’t impart a huge flavor, if that makes sense. I would use just a pinch. Can’t wait to hear how you like it!

  18. I learned of this delicious drink back in the early 2002. As a beekeeper, this is a drink I share with good friends.
    I’ve learned you must use honey from a local beekeeper , not the stuff you get off the shelf at a big grocery store unless it is local honey. I always was told, the long it stays in the bottle, the smoother it gets. I believe two years is a good time if you can wait. Enjoy!!!

  19. Just discovered this site! My husband is Lithuanian and he has memories of his Grandfather making some kind of “strong” drink. While Ed never tried it as a child I am making this for his 65th birthday as a surprise. I’ve been tracing his ancestry and will give him this along with a “book” about his family. Thanks for posting this. Can’t wait to see his face as he sips this and remembers his beloved Grandfather.

  20. My first batch is simmering right now!

  21. Just finished by 2nd batch… I got a few Italian glass bottles on Amazon which are going to be the perfect gift during the holidays.
    I did have one question though, does anyone here, or OP, have an estimated alcohol content/ proof of final product?
    I followed the recipe exactly, including the 190 proof grain and all.
    Basic calculations would put it around 75 proof, or roughly 37.5% alcohol in the finished product.

    Is there even a way to accurately measure this? Or has anyone come up with a different figure?
    Please share!
    thanks!
    -Logan

    • Sasha Martin says:

      You’re amazing Logan! I don’t have experience calculating the numbers, but from what I’ve sipped I can tell you it is quite strong! Be careful :)

  22. I followed the directions, but mine came out the color of dark tea. Should I be worried? Also, I used Everclear 151 Proof, since the ABC Stores in NC only carry that.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      It’s hard to say what was different – perhaps your honey was dark? It may lighten up once the sediment settles, too. That can take a few days!

  23. Logan Hall says:

    Sasha Martin:

    From the original post you say “up to one year”.
    I’m just curious how long you’ve let it sit and if anyone has experienced this going ‘bad’ after a particular amount of time…

    I just rediscovered a bottle after our move and it’s atleast 18 months old!
    I took a sip and it was delicious and seemed okay, but should I be concerned?
    Should I drink up before the 2 year mark?

    Any input would be greatly appreciated.

    BTW: I gave out 7 bottles last year for Christmas and this year I have 16 requests… Oddly enough I know 16 people didn’t receive a bottle last year haha. The word is spreading and now I have a full-blown operation to make family and friends happy this winter!!

  24. What is “5 allspice berries”? I want to make this for my b/f parents for the holidays. I think they will appreciate it since they are Lithuanian. can someone give me the pronunciation for sveikatą so I say it correctly?

    • Sasha Martin says:

      You can get allspice berries (or whole allspice) in the spice section of most any grocery store. They have a lovely aromatic flavor. I wish I could help with the pronunciation, but I think your b/f’s parents will be so touched by your gesture and will certainly help with the pronunciation, too :)

  25. I have made about 5 batches now. It’s really good! Wish I could keep it around long enough to see how it mellows! I have neighbors making it now which makes me smile! I get my turmeric root at a local Indian market they always have it. I want to try green cardamom as I have only used the black so far. Thanks for sharing I bet my parents are smiling too!

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