Polish Nalewka
Story by blogger Agata Pona of Baba Aga; Recipe by blogger Karolina Klesta of karolinapatryk.com

I remember my grandparents’ home through the fog of childhood.

It was a neat wooden house with an A-shaped roof, yellow shutters and an immaculately groomed garden, with apples, cherries, tomatoes and cabbage growing fruitfully, and a chicken coop where hens would lay fresh eggs.

My grandfather also had raspberries growing along the back wall of his large garden.

Every year, there would be enough raspberries for all the grandchildren — and there were a lot of grandchildren — and for grandpa to make his signature nalewka, one of our traditional Polish liqueurs.

We left Poland when I was very young, so I only heard tales about his Polish nalewka from my father. My family lived a 13-hour flight away, and visited very seldom.

This is probably why I remember vividly the first time I tried Polish nalewka.

Someone had just come back from a visit, and they smuggled a bottle of the homemade Polish liqueur tucked in between sweaters and towels in their suitcase.

That part isn’t important.

What’s important is the second I took a sip from a small fluted glass, my senses lit up like fireworks.

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Looking for Polish recipes? Polish nalewka is a delicious liqueur made from everything from cherries to garlic to ginger and beyond! Learn more about this fascet of Polish culture, and learn to make it yourself, here. #Poland #booze #drinks

Every summer that I would visit Poland as a child came back to me. It was as if someone had opened up the floodgates and memories came pouring in. My heart skipped a beat and was squeezed by an invisible hand very tightly.

I felt like I was initiated into some sort of family secret.

My grandfather had somehow managed to take the most flavorful and ripe raspberries you can possibly imagine and extract their color and their essence into a bottle.

And what a powerful essence it was!

My blood started to flow faster and I smiled despite myself. This must have been what they meant by “ambrosia”.

According to Greek mythology, Ambrosia was the drink of the gods. My experience certainly fit the description.

My grandfather has since passed away; but as I write this I can still taste those raspberries:

Thick, sweet, red.

This nalewka wasn’t like any of the other Polish liqueurs. When I sipped this, the taste enveloped every taste bud in my mouth, moving farther to reach and grab my heart and head.

 

Visiting Poland? Don’t miss these unforgettable tours

 

Polish Nalewka: A Special Polish Liqueur

I had trouble explaining the drink to my friends in California.

What is Polish nalewka?

In short, it’s a sweet alcoholic drink, but it’s also not the type of libation you just drink like any other.

First of all, it’s homemade — usually using a family recipe, or a recipe that has been developed over a long time.

Everything about it is unique, from where the fruit you use comes from, to the alcohol used to macerate the fruit, to the particular story behind it.

Polish Nalewka
Polish Nalewka. Photo via karolekzroztocza/Pixabay.

Polish nalewka is perhaps more of a family heirloom; a story meant to share than just a liqueur or drink.

If you are tasting someone’s nalewka, that means they are putting a lot of effort into welcoming you as a guest, impressing you, cementing a friendship or just sharing something with you.

Think of it as a secret; or an intimate part of their lives that can’t be translated and put into any words at all.

My grandfather made his Polish nalewka out of raspberries, and occasionally sour cherries; but after I moved back to Poland as an adult, I found there was a whole diverse world of traditions and recipes out there for this complex genre of Polish liqueurs.

The Polish Nalewka Genealogy

When I came back to Poland in my thirties, I was very interested in traditional recipes and culinary family heirlooms.

I collected nalewka recipes from my grandmother, my aunts and uncles.

Slowly, this spread to the outer rims of my family, like in-laws and cousins’ friends’ sisters.

People were fascinated that I was compiling this list, and they would in-turn offer to give me recipes and samples of their own Polish liqueurs.

The small sample bottles always amazed me, especially the care and creativity of how they were bottled and packaged. Some had handwritten labels, with others had intricate caps, embellished with ribbon, thread and hanging tags.

One thing was for sure:

These Polish nalewki — the plural of nalewka —were all unique and completely unrepeatable.

fresh raspberries
Fresh fruit is an essential ingredient of Polish Nalewka. Photo via Canva.

One year the fruit would be sweeter.

Another year, there was a drought so the fruit were sweet, tiny and concentrated. The cherries were too small to pit comfortably, so someone’s aunt just put the whole fruit in, stone and all.

There was also the year grandma’s hand slipped and she measured the wrong amount of sugar.

As you can see, this is far from an exact scientific process.

Some of the ones I have tried include:

  • gooseberry
  • rhubarb
  • red currant
  • black currant
  • coffee
  • raisin
  • prune
  • plum
  • mirabelle plum
  • peach
  • pine
  • garlic, pepper
  • herbal
  • apple
  • pear
  • strawberry
  • …and more!

 

Visiting Poland? Don’t miss these unforgettable tours

 

Exploring Polish Liqueurs Through Local Stories

Want to dive deeper into the culture of Polish nalewka?

My husband’s uncle only made nalewka with alcohol he distilled himself, and filtered numerous times.

He would sell this moonshine to neighbors, but keep the creme de la creme — his digestif nalewki — for himself.

There was one with bitter herbs, one with garlic and one with pepper.

My husband says that the garlic nalewka was the best with steak or other grilled meat. I’m told it was very likely the best nalewka ever made.

His uncle died four years ago. Today, the last bottle of his nalewka is in our basement.

Every year, my cousin’s husband does a nalewka tasting.

He is a master, and makes about ten every year, trying out different recipes and ingredients. It’s one of those nights when we book the grandparents for babysitting duties and head to my cousin’s house for a night of serious tasting, rating and discussing.

I worked at a meadery doing tastings, when a customer told me about his grandfather’s nalewka.

He came back two months later with a small ornate bottle. Apparently he liked the way I told him about mead so much, he wanted to share his Polish nalewka with me.

It was made out of the hearts of apricot pits, macerated in alcohol for a year.

Then, a year later when apricots were in season again, he would take fresh ripe apricots and macerate them in the alcohol that absorbed the almond pit heart flavor.

It would need to be aged for at least a year. Actually, the recipe took at least three years to complete.

I was so moved by his efforts.

Every year, my cousin tries to replicate my grandfather’s Polish nalewka.

And every year, we sit and toast to fresh raspberries.

And every year, we are just a little disappointed when it doesn’t taste exactly the same.

My friend’s mother would send her and her brother to the neighbor’s yard to pick up the wind-fallen unripe walnuts off the ground to make walnut nalewka.

Ever since the tree fell in a storm, he’s been hiding the last bottle in his closet.

walnuts for polish nalewka
You can even use walnuts for Polish nalewka. Photo via Tim_Tonic/Pixabay.

An aunt gave me a bottle of chokeberry nalewka, and I brought it home to enjoy with my in-laws. My father in-law jumped at this opportunity, because he also had a bottle of chokeberry nalewka in his cellar.

When we sampled them side-by-side, we realized that — despite being made with the same fruit — they tasted completely different.

Hers was just one year old, red and incredibly fruity; his was 10 years old, brown and clear with a dark whiskey-like appearance. It had an incredibly complicated taste.

This whole experience completely floored me and convinced me that nalewka-making is truly a national sport in Poland.

Healing Properties Of Polish Nalewka

Since the earliest days, it was known that macerating herbs in alcohol brought out the power of active ingredients.

Hippocrates recommended alcohol and herb mixtures, that would later become known as Hippocras, and the first known written account of medicinal herbal nalewki comes from a book published in 1534.

Interestingly, modern herbalists still macerate herbs in alcohol to extract healing properties.

cardamom
Fruit isn’t the only ingredient for making Polish Nalewka. Cardamom is another! Photo via Ludmila_ph/Pixabay.

Here are a few of the most common medicinal nalewkas:

Garlic Nalewka. It’s said to help with the common cold and flu, raising immunity and acting as a natural antibiotic.

Amber Nalewk. This nalewka — which has antiseptic properties and works as a way to relieve asthma — is made out amber that’s been broken up into tiny fragments.

Rowan Nalewka. This nalewka is made out of rowan berries. The berries used for this have to be picked after the first frost. Freezing helps them lose their bitter flavor. In modern times, you can just freeze them. Rowan nalewka helps with digestion.

Ginger Nalewka. This is a mix of herbs and spices, and has a light antibacterial effect. It’s made with ginger, cardamom, allspice, oregano and vanilla beans.

Pine Nalewka. Essentially a cough syrup, this nalewka must be made in the spring, out of fresh pine shoots.

Juniper Nalewka. This is very “ginny” tasting, but has a ton of benefits. It’s mildly antibiotic, speeds up digestion and metabolism, and makes you sweat.

How Can You Try Polish Nalewka?

There are many places that you can get a bottle of commercial nalewka.

Some are more reputable than others, and as with many things in life, the more expensive the bottle is, typically the better the ingredients used in production are.

In any large supermarket there is going to be a nalewka section.

Recently, large vodka companies have begun making their own nalewki.

Although they don’t taste like the homemade stuff, some of them can hold their own. This is especially true of quince nalewka made by Soplica.

Traditional restaurants started to offer them as dessert options, and some even make their own.

Pro tip:

If you visit Poland in the summer, you might be lucky enough to catch a traditional food festival.

It is during these Polish festivals that you can hunt down an original homemade nalewka.

These are fairly common recently, and they usually take place on weekends in town squares or cultural museums.

Some of the more notable Polish food festivals include:

Poznań Good Taste Festival. This August festival also features an annual nalewka contest and traditional food!

Dzikowski Nalewka Festival. Plan your trip to Poland in June if you want to attend.

Some great companies that sell artisan nalewki:

  • Nalewkarnia Longinus
  • Kredens Krakowski
  • Nalewki Staropolskie
  • Herbal: St. Hildegard Posch

Commercial nalewki to try:

  • Nalewka Babuni
  • Soplica
polish nalewki
Polish Nalewki via Canva.

Polish Nalewka Recipe

This Nalewka recipe was submitted by Karolina Klesta, from her grandmother.

Says Klesta, “Nalewka wiśniowa — or cherry nalewka, also known as “wiśniówka” — is a must-have in every Polish home. You can buy it at any liquor store, but it tastes best when it’s homemade.”

Ingredients:

  • 1 kg / 2.2 pounds of washed and pitted cherries
  • 1 bottle of rectified spirit (500 ml / 17 oz)
  • 300 g / 0.7 pounds of sugar
  • 1/2 glass of water

Preparation:

1. Mix sugar and water in the saucepan and heat for 1-2 minutes until sugar dissolves in the water.

2. Fill the jug with cherries and syrope made of sugar and water.

3. Mix it altogether.

4. Seal and store in a cool, dark place for at least 4 weeks. You can shake the jug every few days to make it even better.

Wiśniówka is ready to drink after a month.

After that time, you can pour the liquor into the bottles.

The cherries are also great to eat; but be careful! You can get tipsy very quickly from eating them.

 

Visiting Poland? Don’t miss these unforgettable tours

Have you tried Polish nalewka? Please share your experiences in the comments below! 

Further Exploration:

How To Explore Eastern Europe’s Surprising Sparkling Wine Culture [Blog Inspiration]

Classic Recipes of Poland: Traditional Food and Cooking in 25 Authentic Regional Dishes [Great Reads]

Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments [Travel Safety]

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Planning a trip to Poland? Whether you're visiting Poland or just want to explore Polish culture at home, this nalewka liqueur recipe will help! #recipes #liqueur #homemade

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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1 Comment

  1. I love Polish vodka! I love Poland in general, and living in Berlin, my husband and I go to various Polish cities a few times a year. We’ve taken 2 vodka tours, one in Warsaw and one in Krakow, and they were so much fun. That’s how we learned about nalewka, and while we didn’t have any truly homemade stuff, we did go to one place that had large glass jugs of a ton of different flavors. I remember trying black pepper…that was a bit hard to take! But the Soplica pigwowa is definitely one of the best. Every time we go to Poland now, we take back a few bottles. I’ve been wanting to try to make our own, so this recipe is helpful!

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