The recent resurgence of obscure European liquors is here to stay, it seems. I mean, they’ve been here all along — it’s just the spotlight that’s new. Kind of like how eggs went from being a boring everyday ingredient we order scrambled at Denny’s or whatever, to something else entirely. Eggs On Things is a standard brunch item at the most exciting restaurants around, and also, #yolkporn exists and Instagram will deliver more oozy results than you know what to do with.
What I’m getting to is this: we Lithuanians have something to contribute to this spirits-themed party. For one thing, I’ve definitely seen Trejos Devynerios, or 999, on liquor store shelves. And I had often thought it was just a matter of time before a craft distiller (I dunno, somewhere in Portland, most likely) would start making krupnikas, a spiced honey liqueur that I had known as a homemade infusion one starts in September using an old family recipe, and cracks open around the Christmas table. It’s festive, sweet, and warming — to human bodies and conversation alike.
Well, Vince Radostitz of JVR Spirits right here in Portland (of course) was way ahead of me. Fast forward to this past July, when I saw their booth at the Oregon Distillers Festival and immediately zoomed over to find out more. He graciously shared the story of how his project came to be, and was an absolute pleasure to chat with. The krupnik, made in collaboration with New Deal, is the result of a recipe found in Vince’s dad’s garage, and tastes exactly like meduolis — Lithuanian gingerbread, which we consume pretty much year round from what I remember. JVR Krupnik is sweet — it’s supposed to be — but spicy enough to achieve balance.
This is where I’d normally give you a link to buy some top-notch booze from some top-notch people. Well, it seems availability is pretty much limited to Oregon, though hopefully not for long. I realize JVR Krupnik is a little hard to come by in most parts, so I tried a version of this drink with 1/2 an ounce of 1:1 honey syrup and 1/2 an ounce of allspice dram as a substitute. That worked well too. And if allspice dram isn’t readily available either, you can try spicing your honey syrup with some combination of warm flavors like ginger, cardamom, allspice, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon. Is it just me or did we just run out of excuses to not make this?
As for the gin, it’s Old Cockney Gin from Two James Distillery in Detroit, graciously sent to me by a longtime reader and friend (Hi Jake!). This is a little easier to replace — any heady, spicy, dry, juniper-forward gin will be great.
Now that I think about it, I should have called this drink the “Vince and Jake Are The Nicest” Collins.
Lastly, I think I need to address the flaming herb garnish issue. I’m still figuring out a safe, predictable way to do it at home without getting in trouble. Here, I misted the thyme with Everclear and lit it up, but results were… Unpredictable. Try it if you really want to, safely over your sink first, and with a fire extinguisher nearby. I don’t want any phone calls from anybody’s mom (or landlord), is all I’m saying. But I don’t need to, because you’re smart.
Obviously, flaming the thyme is completely optional. Sit back and enjoy your drink however you make it, and toast to having a roof over your head that isn’t on fire. Cheers! Or rather, i sveikata!
- 1 1/2 ounces dry gin (Two James Old Cockney used here)
- 1 1/2 ounces krupnik (JVR Spirits used here -- see notes above if you need a substitution)
- 3/4 ounce fresh pressed lemon juice
- Soda water
- Thyme and/or lemon, for garnish
- Combine gin, krupnik, and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Top off with soda water and garnish with thyme (flamed or not) and/or lemon.