THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA
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This is one more area Lithuania has reason to be proud of. The Russians may disagree, as they claim to have started producing vodka in the 17th century. Lithuanians, however, claim that the Russians didn’t know how to make real vodka until the Russian chemist D. Mendeleev (1834-1907) discovered the process of the rectification of the alcohol. He also was the first, who suggested mixing alcohol and water according to the weight, and not volume, something not known to the manufacturers of the poor vodkas in Western Europe up till today.
In the old times, before this discovery, Russian villagers had a soured drink - "sivuha", "samagon", "brandahlist". The Ukrainians in the 17th century tried to learn how to distil vodka from the Lithuanians, but having no experience they distilled a whitish drink "gorilka", that kept all the alcohols and the water steam inside, and which contained about 25-30 per cent of alcohol. Most probably it was cheaper to buy vodka, which was brought by the Lithuanian merchants, than to make it. Knowledge and experience were needed for this.
In Lithuania vodka, distilled from grain, was already being made at the beginning of the millennium, just after year 1000!! A sour drink "gira", beer and mead was made, but vodka was being distilled. The specially prepared barley was being burnt (heated) so it by no means was boiled, but the vodka evaporated. From this process vodka gets its Lithuanian name - "DEGTINE" which comes from the verb “degti” (to burn). By the way, this is the only term, describing the process of the production of the strong drink. This linguistic-semantic argument is the most archaic in the world. Whisky - means "water" in old English, eau de vie - "water" in old French, vodka - "water" with a little bit negative meaning in old common folk Russian. Ancient Lithuanians in their experience knew that ethyl alcohol evaporates at the temperature of 78.3 degrees. Even now the very good distillers of the home-made vodka determine and control the time of the barley burning (heating), in order to get a “clear as a tear” home-made vodka, without any additional smells (of other alcohols), dashes, and with the alcohol percentage of 60-70. But vodka distillers knew that while distilling vodka, the poisonous methyl alcohol exudes earlier at the temperature of 71 degrees. The technologists of the modern vodka production, especially from Russia and Europe, can not understand how Lithuanians could rectificate vodka, as the rectification process itself was not known to the world yet.
It was a taboo for the distillers to drink the first dipper of vodka, which had to be, and still has to, be sacrificed to the gods by pouring vodka on the ground. This custom is still alive and obligatory in Lithuania. The first dipper of vodka can not be drunk. It is being poured over the shoulder, simultaneously saying "For Gods!" Up till now, in the villages of the Lowlands, You can hear the distillers saying in the Lowlandish dialect: "Give the first cup to the gods"; "Who does not give to gods, gets his eyes dripped"; "First cheers to gods, then to a person"; "First cheer the god, then god will give you health"; "Pour the first vodka to gods, if you do not do this, they will take your health away."
The most famous Irish and Scottish whiskey (whisky) manufacturers are deprived of speech when they hear such an elementary rectification dictated and learned by practice and experience. They incline their heads low, and award the Lithuanians with all the laurels. While the Irish, the first to start making whiskey in the British Isles, come straight to the point. They say that the beginning of whiskey and beer production, in the 13th century, was not spontaneous. It was started using the recipe, originally brought from somewhere, most probably from Lithuania.
"Trejos Devynerios"("Triple Nine") - the oldest bitter in the world
"Trejos Devynerios" is the bitter of 27 (9+9+9=27) herbs. In the old times it was made right after St. John’s night, at the sunrise. The herbs were collected in a way, known only to the priests (earlier - to the senior priests). Then the herbs were conformably dried, specially put together and infused with vodka (60% of alcohol) and distilled at that shortest night of the year. Only the priests could know the proportions. The ritual was always performed outside, for the bitter had to get the power and energy of the Sun. After the sun set, the bitter was poured into hornbeam barrels. Later on the barrels were poured over with the melted beeswax and buried in holes dug into the ground of the cellars. There the hermetically sealed bitter was kept for three years, three months, and three weeks.
In the 13-17th centuries, Lithuania was one of the biggest and the greatest countries in Europe, with its territory stretching from the Baltic till the Black Sea (including the present Belorussia, Ukraine, and Western Russia). The Grand Lithuanian Principality was often at war protecting Europe from the Tatar-Mongol hordes from the East. In the 13-17th centuries, having the most modern armaments in Europe, using the latest war tactics and strategies founded by the talented Lithuanian commanders, Lithuanians beat the Army of Batijus, and stopped their invasion into the Europe. Also for those long ages Lithuanians were fighting with the aggressive crusaders and sword bearing orders, holding off the onslaught of Lithuania from the West. The Lithuanian knights and warriors were using "Trejos Devynerios" as a universal remedy from cold and joint illnesses, as a disinfectant and a treatment means for war wounds, and also as a tonic for prophylactic. For Lithuanian men the greater part of their lives were spent in wars, so the healing bitter "Trejos Devynerios" was even included into the army list of food supplies from what is shown in the old Lithuanian army’s supply lists of the 15th century.
Six centuries later, in 1878, "Trejos Devynerios" showed up in the small German town of Welfenbüttel, just with a different name - "Jegermeister." After the German taste, it was much sweeter, but still there was a note on the label, that the recipe was received from Lithuanian monasteries. But when "Jegermeister" became famous in the rest of the world, the note, that the drink was being made according to the Lithuanian recipe, was not on the label any more. Anyway, there is still "Kreuter Mieke" in Germany. It is made out of herbs and it is used in the production of "Jegermeister." On the label of "Kreuter Mieke" there is a note stating that this is a mixture of 27 herbs after the original recipe of an old Lithuanian monastery.
In 1511, The Grand Duke of Lithuania Zygimantas the Senior allowed the merchants of Vilnius to buy and sell as much grain as they wanted freely, because a lot of grain was being used in the production of vodka, beer, and "gira" (a sour drink). Even the Guild of the Malters of Vilnius was founded. This guild sprouted, dried and ground the grain coarsely and sold it to everyone who wanted to make vodka and beer. This was legal, because during the period of the Grand Principality of Lithuania every inhabitant of Lithuania had a right to make mead or beer and to distil vodka for their own needs
The best homemade vodka from grain is believed to be distilled in the Lowlands in the Plunge district, and from rye - in Dzukija in the Varenos district and around Labanor. Officially this homemade vodka "Samane" is being produced by Alytus "Alita." This company is the only one in the world which does this.
"Starka" - thousand years old and probably a better drink than whisky
"Starka" is special festal vodka, which was traditionally made on the day of the birth of the first son. Already in the 15th century the foreigners, who were visiting Lithuania and describing its life, noticed the fact that when the midwife announced the birth of the son, men started distilling vodka. Later they poured that vodka into the oak barrel, which was later coated with the hot beeswax and dug into the ground. The barrel was being dug up, and the liquid tasted on the wedding day of that son, that means, at least about 20 years later. The name of this vodka is purely Lithuanian. It comes from the old Lithuanian word "starkus" (a stork), and this is connected with the widely spread story, that the new baby is being brought by the stork. And up to now countrymen are asking not for "Starka", but for "Starkine" vodka at the shop.
Though Russians are trying to explain that "starka" has come from the Russian word "staraya" (meaning "the old one"), if so the name of the vodka would be "Staraya", because, since the Russians learned to distil the potato-grain vodka after opening "Smirnoff" vodka factory, all Russian vodkas still have their original names: "Listovka", "Dovgan", "Spotykach", "Yerofeych", "Staromoskovskaya" and from Soviet times - "Moskovskaya", "Stolychnaya", "Russkaya", "Kubanskaya", "Sibirskaya.". In addition, from the linguistic side, the word "starka" has no semantic meaning in Russian.
Lithuanian mead is one of the oldest strong drinks in the world
Nowadays the only factory in the world "Lietuviskas midus" ("Lithuanian mead"), which is in a small Lithuanian town Stakliskes, produces Lithuanian mead of various kinds, according to recipes that are thousands of years old. Also here the especially strong and aromatic mead bitters (balsams) "Zalgiris" (70%), "Nemunas" (60%), "Suktinis" (50%), seasoned with herbs, are being made. These drinks are not only the most ancient of drinks with unique peculiarity in the whole world, they are peculiar only to Lithuania, and they could make Lithuania even more famous than for basketball if the Stakliskes folks would advertise themselves internationally.
Lithuanian "Krupnikas" - the most noble liqueur in Europe
This is the liqueur from honey and herbs, that was made by the monks of the Bernardine monastery, which was settled in Nesvyzius by M.K. Radvila Naslaitelis. The monks could see wine only on the tables of the dukes and the aristocracy.
In 1546, the wine cellars were built and equipped on Tiltu street in Vilnius. The wine supervisors had a home nearby. By the way, the costs of transporting the wine from Hungary made up to 65.3% of the wine’s price. The percentage was even higher, when the wine was brought from Avignon, or any other region of France, Southern German principalities, Italy - the Kingdom of Naples, Lombardy, Toscana, or the Pope’s wineries. Much wine was brought by the Hanza merchants. This wine was mostly being bought by the wine supervisors of the Vilnius’s Royal Palace. So, it goes without saying, that wine was being drunk only by the rich. The Bernardine monks, who came from the Southern parts of the Europe, were especially fascinated by mead - a not very strong drink, having the taste and aroma of the natural honey. On the base of this drink Bernardines created "Krupnikas." For the first time, the guests were officially treated to "Krupnikas"in 1593, on the occasion of the building of the NesvyZius Radvilos’ palace. This date should be considered the official date of the origin of Krupnikas. Of course, this date can not be related neither with the that is being made by "Vilniaus Degtine", nor with the drink of Kaunas’s "Stumbras." The real recipe of Krupnikas, which was created by the Bernardines, is different. It was known to the author, just as the other recipes of the ancient Lithuanian drinks. The author would agree to teach the recipe only to the Lithuanian Bernardines or the Kretinga Minorites because they had especially well conditions to make Krupnikas, but in no way he would teach the state or private companies.
The honey liqueur Krupnikas soon became the favourite drink of the aristocracy, and especially ladies liked it. Krupnikas became most famous after the 1920s, when Lithuanian independence was restored and when it became the most popular drink among the aristocrats of Kaunas. It was being served at feasts of the highest rank and governmental balls. At the Presidency and institutions, in the parsonages and estates, Krupnikas was being served in tiny, cut-glass decanters and drank from cups of the size of a thimble. It was drunk together with the coffee. Very often the estates, parsonages, and even the wealthier homes were making Krupnikas according to their own recipe. Krupnikas was being made out of everything at that time: cherry and lemon, orange and tangerine, badyan (a kind of anise) and cardamom, wine and champagne, montpensieur and brown sugar, but these were only primitive imitations that had nothing in common with the real Krupnikas.
At the same time the Polish started making their own "Krupnikas", but it was far from the original one. However, the Polish were justifiably proud of it. Because of this, some Lithuanians think that Krupnikas was created by the Polish in 1930.
Just do not forget that Lithuanian Krupnikas is the only liqueur in the world that is being warmed up before drinking. This is the way it was drunk by the monks and the nobles and only tasting krupnikas in this way can the marvellous, perfectly tuned honey, grain, alcohol and herbs taste and unique aroma open.
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