Honey vodkas should not be confused with honey wines (mead). Honey wine is fermented honey and contains little alcohol (12-16%), but honey vodkas are not fermented and are strong (40-45%). Aromatic infusions such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are added as well as citric acid that offsets some of the honey's sweetness. Orange and lemon skins extracts contribute nicely to the final flavor. The color of honey vodka is largely influenced by honey's color and caramel may be added to darken it. In Poland honey vodka is known as "krupnik" and it is offered at 40% alcohol strength.
Lithuanian honeys deserve special mention as they were such wonderful drinks. The best translation would be an alcohol enriched honey wine. Fresh or dry fruits, herbs and aromatic spices were added, and those were mixed with honey wine and alcohol. Then, they matured for a long time in oak barrels. The Lithuanian honeys contained 50- 75% (100 - 150 proof) of alcohol so they were rather potent drinks. Lithuanian honeys were sometimes ignited before serving. While the ignition created a spectacle, the main reason for the ignition was to release alcohol vapors which made the drink taste better, especially in the cold season. It was also proof of the drink's quality and potency, as the weak versions did not inflame. An interesting variation is Lithuanian "Red Krupnikas" which is a honey vodka made with honey and caramel syrup. In additiotion to its darker color it has also a slightly different flavor because of caramel.
German Honey Liqueur
In 15th century in East Prusia, Teucke & Konig Bear Trap Company started to make Barenjager Honey Liqueur. It is presently made by the German Company Schwarze & Schlichte. The company offers two versions of the liqueur:
- Barenjager (Bear Hunter) at 35% alcohol
- Barefang (Bear Trap) at 33% alcohol
Top quality Polish honey vodka does not contain sugar at all, just 500 g (350 ml) honey, aromatic extracts, and alcohol. Krupnik is rather a strong vodka (40-45%) so no water is necessary as long as it made with 75% alcohol. The more economic type will have a part of honey substituted with sugar, usually 50%. Good honey vodka should contain between 140-200 ml (200-280 g) of honey per 1 liter of product. One liter of honey weighs about 1.4 kg.
Instead of using individual extracts an all-in-one extract can be made:
- cloves - 2 g
- nutmeg - 2 g
- cinnamon stick - 4 g
- fresh ginger - 4 g
- vanilla stick - 4 g
- alcohol 60%* - 150 ml
- macerate for 2-3 weeks
*mixing equal amounts of vodka and 75% Everclear produces 58% alcohol. About 10 ml of the above all-in-one vodka honey extract is enough to flavor 1 liter vodka.
Orange and lemon extracts may be added as well.
Honey-Fruit Juice Vodkas
Numerous honey vodkas include a fruit infusion or alcohol enriched juice, for example raspberry, sour cherry or cherry. Adding a kiwi infusion creates excellent results. Up to 20% of juice may be added without compromising honey vodka's flavor.
Honey vodka tastes good when served warm. There is nothing better than a decent shot of warm honey vodka when you live in a cold climate and come home tired from work. In Northern Europe, it is customary to ask in a bar for a warm beeer enriched with honey when the wheather is cold.