By Christopher Matthews
Quality. Authenticity. Versatility. Highly desirable traits for most any product, not least spirituous beverages, but often elusive as a trifecta.
One such excellent potation that I recently covered for Edible Hudson Valley Magazine is KAS Spirits’ Krupnikas, a traditional spiced honey liqueur from the Baltic region (dating back to the 16th century!) that most Lithuanian-American families make at home on stove tops – from carefully guarded recipes – and bring out for celebratory occasions. This includes the family of Kestutis J. Katinas (a.k.a. Kas), the founder of KAS Spirits. He is taking this Eastern European tradition to a wider audience via a former auto repair shop in Mahopac, NY. Call him the Lithuanian liqueur garagiste.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens by Lithuanian parents who were refugees from World War II, Kas only spoke Lithuanian at home. And one of his earliest memories: his mother by the stove, making the aromatic Krupnikas. It made an impression; as a young adult, in Fleishmanns, NY, he started making – and tweaking – the family recipe, to plaudits from friends and relatives. As early as 1995, he considered going into commercial production, but due to his busy work life as high-end IT consultant for Con Edison, he put the idea on hold…until he got the pink slip in 2011. After a futile job search, he and his wife (and business partner), Marushka Osman, decided to throw everything they had financially into the Mahopac Krupnikas operation in 2013. A year later, they started self-distributing KAS to local wine shops.
It has proven a savvy play, as excellent reviews, awards (a recent Gold medal at the 2016 NY Wine and Food Classic)…and sales are pouring in.
Krupnikas is a multi-layered infusion of spices, honey and grain spirit.
First, using a high thread-count sheet as a “tea bag”, Kas assembles a heady mix of aromatic ingredients – anise pods, caraway seeds, cloves, whole allspice, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, ginger root (dried and fresh), cardamom seeds, whole nutmeg (cracked), saffron, and fresh lemon and orange rinds (which have been frozen) – and boils it in highly filtered water in his large customized heating unit, reducing the liquid to concentrate the flavors.
Next, honey is added (clover and wild flower honey from the Finger Lakes), brought to a boil and simmered until fully integrated. This is the “base”. Last, grain spirit is added (a four-time distilled corn spirit), and integrated into the base via heat in the boiling unit. Once finished, the spirit is cooled to room temperature, allowed time to settle and then filtered through his self-designed system and bottled, Putnam County’s only licensed spirits product.
The result is strong (40% ABV), clean and deceptively smooth, with a clear honeyed quality, and complex notes of orange zest and baking spices, excellent both on its own (neat, chilled or heated — an instant hot toddy!), or as a versatile cocktail ingredient (with a growing bar tender fan base).
For more on KAS and Krupnikas, check out the article in Edible Hudson Valley Magazine.