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Nalewka is a traditional Polish liqueur. Typically between 40% and 45% alcohol, it is made by combining a form of alcohol with other ingredients, often spices, fruits, or herbs. Each variety of nalewka has its own proper name based on its ingredients. In Russia, it is known as nalivka.
Manufactured commercially and privately, commercial nalewka usually has a lower alcohol content than bottles brewed in the home. The process is a fairly simple one. Alcohol, usually vodka, is poured over the ingredients it is to be infused with and allowed to sit. After about six weeks, the flavor of the ingredients has been transferred into the alcohol, and the resulting liquid is added to a sugar solution. This mixture is allowed to sit for several more weeks to allow the flavors to mix.
After the basic mixture has been made, the resulting liquid will often be spiced with other ingredients such as lemon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, allspice, cinnamon or vanilla. While the basic procedure is the same across the different types of nalewka, there is no typical recipe. Home brews can change every time they are made.
Nalewka is the name of the liqueur, but different types have different names. These names often refer to the ingredient that is mixed with the alcohol, or can reference the place where the drink was made. Tarninowka is a variety infused with sloeberries and first made in the town of Tarnow near Krakow, giving it its name. Nalewka named for its ingredients includes Smorodina, made with blackcurrants, apricot-flavored Morelówka, ginger-imbued Imbirówka, and the wormwood-flavored Piołunówka.
There is almost no limit to the ingredients that alcohol can be imbued with. While the alcohol is typically vodka, other ingredients can range from coffee and honey to juniper and anise. Many Eastern European families had their own traditional recipes that were guarded as family secrets. The father of the family would be responsible for the brewing, and only upon his death would the recipe be passed on to the older children in the family.
To be drunk properly, the liqueur should be sipped slowly and savored. There are a number of traditions that revolve around the liqueur, and although many have fallen out of favor, they remain an important part of nalewka history. Families would once prepare and bottle a batch of nalewka for the christening of a child, and then open the bottles at their wedding. Young, unmarried girls would make a nalewka with rose hips, and when offered to a suitor it was a sign of their approval.