Nalewka FarmaceutówWhat? Pharmaceutical hooch? Well, it’s not that strange when you consider that before people started making alcohol infusions for pleasure they made them and drank them as medicine. They always seemed to make the patients feel better as long as they took their medicine in high enough doses. Nalewka Farmaceutów has got to be one of the strangest vodka infusions I’ve made so far.

I had to make this one because of it’s strangeness, obscure fame and familial sentimentality. Before WW 2 when my mother, Halina Nadachowska and her family, lived in Brzeżany, in what was than South Eastern Poland, the family’s ambition was to have her study pharmacology so that she could one day become a pharmacist and run the local drug store that they were already planning to buy. As we all know — life is what happens while you are busy making plans. Thanks to the misguided ambitions of a disillusioned Austrian painter not only were my mother’s family plans shattered so were the lives of millions of human beings in Poland, Europe and the rest of the world. After 6 years of unimaginable tragedy, lose and narrow escapes all that was left of that small town dream in Brzeżany was my mother and my grandmother, Maria Nadachowska, relocated thousands of miles from home in the shattered ruins of post war Warsaw.

Old pharmacy in old town Lwow. Down town in pre WW 1 in Brzeżany. Old town Berezhany today.
Old pharmacy in old town Lwow. Down town in pre WW 1 in Brzeżany. Old town Berezhany today.

The Poles are a hardy bunch and seem to have a knack of coming back from the ashes. I guess it comes from a long history of being stuck between two of the most aggressive and brutal nations in Europe, Germany and Russia, without any natural barriers as our borders. My mother ended up a Polish language major at the University od Warsaw and in the end lived a happy and fulfilling life never looking back. What would be the point? Brzeżany or Berezhany, as it is know today, is now run by the Ukrainians, it’s rightful owners. I on the other hand, and many children of that displaced generation can’t help but romanticize the old Polish, backwoods region known as the Kresy. Kresy means fringes, outskirts or frontier in Polish.

From what I can gather, with the scarce information available, this Nalewka started out as a soothing cure-all in the apothecaries’ arsenal of medicative vodka infusions. Don’t let the strange ingredients and long wait scare you — it’s worth it for the refined and unusual taste, the silky texture and the inevitable consternation and conversation that will ensue once you reveal the ingredients.

This is what you will need:

  • 2 liters of vodka
  • 2 liters (0.5 gallons) of whole milk (I used raw milk)
  • 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of peeled and seeded ripe lemons

Carefully peel the lemons removing all the white pith. Seed and quarter them in a bowl or over the Nalewka jar. You don’t want to lose any of the juice. Reserve the peel of one of the lemons making sure to capture as little of the white pith as possible.

Milk, lemons and vodka. Peeled lemons in the jar. Once you pour in the vodka and the milk it's curdle time.
Milk, lemons and vodka. Peeled lemons in the jar. Once you pour in the vodka and the milk it's curdle time.

Put the lemons and peel in the jar and pour in the vodka and milk. Give the whole thing a stir and put in a dark place, like the back of the pantry, for 5 weeks. You don’t want to leave it out in public because after the milk curdles it will look pretty disgusting. Once or twice a week you want to give the whole jar a jiggle and a shake.

Once the 5 weeks are up this disgusting mixture is due to be strained and filtered. Because I was curious of the “cheese” that had formed I first took out the lemons with a slotted spoon and than strained the remaining curds and booze through a my rather dense, linen cheese cloth.

You will want to keep this Nalewka out of public view as it matures. Lemons taken out and the curds straining. Wish I had time to experiment with the "cheese".
You will want to keep this Nalewka out of public view as it matures. Lemons taken out and the curds straining. Wish I had time to experiment with the "cheese".

I ended up with a little over 2 liters of Nalewka and a bunch of rather unusual cheese. I tried the cheese and it wasn’t bad but it had a very harsh lemony flavor. I think, had I had the time, I could have saved it with some processing — I will have to try this next time. The Nelewka itself was light green colored, milky and also a little harsh in the mouth. My confidence wasn’t high as to how it would turn out in the end. I put the bottles in the back of my Nalewka cupboard forgot about them for about 8 weeks hopeing for improvement.

After 8 weeks all the milk solids had settled at the bottom of the bottles. I gave it a taste and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement in taste and texture. I took my infusion through my special 3 rags and a coffee filter filtering system. Once through linen, once through flannel and once through raw silk and finally through a coffee filter. You could just use a coffee filter but this is much faster because the coffee filter won’t get all gummed up right away.

After 8 weeks things were improving - time for some serious filtering. 3 rags and a coffee filter filtering system. All filtered and ready for another well diserved rest.
After 8 weeks things were improving - time for some serious filtering. 3 rags and a coffee filter filtering system. All filtered and ready for another well diserved rest.

The filtered Nalewka Farmaceutów went back into the bottles and of to the cupboard for another 4 weeks.

So what’s the final verdict? For starters it’s not final. This Nalewka seems to be maturing very well and has improved dramatically since it’s first filtering. It has a subtle, delicately lemony tongue, a soft velvety texture and an unusual, vaguely buttermilky but hard to pin down finish. I’m on my 3rd glass now trying to come to grips with all the nuances.

The best part is that I know this is just the start of the process and I look forward to the many times I will try to put my finger, or is that tongue, on what it is exactly that makes this Apothecary’s Nalewka so special. Right now I will have another glass while I relax with my Polish language copy of Together and Apart in Brzezany: Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, 1919-1945 by Shimon Redlich.

Nalewka Farmaceutów — The Apothecary’s Nalewka

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