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by Elska á Fjárfelli

A closer look at Krupnik with Lord Cassiano da Castello in the 2021 Kingdom of Æthelmearc Arts & Sciences Championship.

Could you tell me a little about you, your persona. Is your entry something your persona would use?

I am currently a mix of personas, trending towards 16th C. Polish. The working story is that my persona traveled to Italy in search of new trade connections/ flavors, and due to a customs error, got stuck in Northern Italy with an Italian name. Lord Cassiano is still trying to get home to Poland, but alas, the records are mixed up and he is still trying to find his Polish name to leave.

My Kingdom A&S entry, a Lithuanian honey Krupnik made with rye vodka, is something that I think he definitely would drink and be familiar with. The research beyond the making of the drink argues that home distilling of this beverage occurred prior to the late period, and was available on special occasions like holidays. I have not proven this fully and entirely, but work continues.

Lord Cassiano’s yummy entry of honey Krupnik (sampled outdoors, of course).

What inspired you to make your entry? Did you have a specific need? A desire to try a new skill?

Several years ago, I was introduced to Krupnik by members of the Lithuanian diaspora in Pittsburgh, where many found work in mills, or in PA’s anthracite coal regions– that coal and steel barons may have also imported workers because of ethnic biases (Slavs work hard and don’t complain) is another story for another time. Regardless, I tried the drink, liked it, and thought I might try to track its roots back into medieval period.

There go some famous last words, as tracking it into medieval period has been difficult. What became a “I just wanna try this and see how it goes” became a real quest to try to give some small voice to a particularly marginalized and historically silenced area of the world. The more I dug, the more that I came to understand how another ethnic group came to be systematically hamstrung and erased from the medieval socio-political landscape. The Krupnik project, in attempts to use primary source documents, became a discussion of how to find answers in the land and in local hearsay, when the footsteps of life ways for a living, feeling people had been wiped from the landscape.

This line of inquiry kept me going where I might have been sincerely frustrated.

Did the entry throw up any unexpected issues?

Yes and no, all the issues and none at all. Krupnik is blessedly easy to make, and to make well. It has a flexible and robust recipe, capable of accepting additional and varied ingredients (I’ve made the recipe substituting honey with maple syrup, shagbark hickory syrup, and molasses, all have turned out delicious). It is very fun to play with, trying new flavors and new combinations because it holds up so well. So no issues in the project journal aspects of the project.

The research aspect will always have an asterisk, however. Certain folks have remarked that my documentation approaches thesis-length, and half of it is explaining leads that should be taken with a grain of salt, adding caveats, and extensively providing secondary resources where I lack a formal recipe. It’s not ideal. I know it isn’t. But I think that proper justice can be given with the source material provided, it just requires all that much more care and precision.

Did you learn something specific, something you would do differently, or would recommend others to do again?

In the last iteration of the project, I used rye vodka instead of another grain vodka, as I surmised that if a vodka was made in period, it would be from the most available, cheapest grain in the area, and thus rye. The resulting flavor change I think is the best version I have put forward. Rye has a spiciness/ sourness to it that I think really balances out the strong honey character. I would recommend this to anyone making Krupnik.

What do you think of the difference between entering an in-person or a virtual competition?

I have entered virtual competitions with tastings and I do prefer in-person for this. It takes so much more effort to ship out samples or drive them to people. Much easier for in-person!

What motivated you to enter the Kingdom Championship?

I try to enter everything I can. Feedback is necessary for sure, and I am chasing growth and direction with this project. It is also important to me to see benchmarks in my scores of how they change and what I can do to affect them. Even if they do not demonstrate growth, they are a marker of consistent effort, and that is meaningful.