Starka belongs to a group of “national vodkas.” This strong liquor (40-50% ABV) has been produced since the 15th century in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—modern-day Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, and western Russia. The real Starka has an intricate flavor of aged cognac with hints of rye, but it also has a mild taste with a slight bitterness.
Features. The technology behind Starka is quite simple: rye mash gets distilled twice in a distillation still, which in its turn makes rye vodka (moonshine). Obviously, this beverage can’t be called Starka yet. It becomes the legendary drinks much later, after 10-50 years of aging in oak wine barrels at 12°C or less.
The “secret ingredient” is also important—Starka is infused with pear and apple leaves, and sometimes with lime flowers. This allows for a slightly bitter and fragrant vodka with a mild flavor and absolutely no scent of ethanol or fusel oils.
Starka vodka gained a lot of praise in the 19th century when cheap potato moonshine appeared on the market and higher quality liquor moved to a separate segment.
Starka is often called “Russian whiskey.” Its name is derived from a Polish word, which means both “aging process” and “an elderly woman.”
There was a tradition in Polish households, when the head of the household made a barrel of Starka, sealed it with wax, and buried it underground on the birthday of the heir. This barrel was then dug out on the child’s wedding day.
In the 19th century, Starka was produced by the Bachevski company in Lviv and a few Lithuanian distilleries. There was a Soviet “Starka” tincture, which proved to be a great imitation of the original drink thanks to herbal essences, but in fact, it had no relation to it.
Starka looks like brandy but has a whiskey-like taste
Nowadays Starka is produced by a Polish company Polmos Szczecin. There are also bitters produced without following the original recipe, but they contain most Starka’s ingredients.
To prepare classic Starka, you have to pour double-distilled rye moonshine into an oak wine barrel, add pear and apple leaves (lime flowers are optional), seal the barrel, and leave it in a cellar for at least 10 years.
If you can’t age the distillate in a barrel, you can try to make homemade Starka using a simplified method—simply imitating its taste.
- Vodka (rye moonshine) – 1 liter
- Oak bark (pegs) – 15-20 grams
- Ground coffee – a third of a teaspoon
- Ground nutmeg – a pinch
- Vanilla sugar – a pinch
- Appletree leaves – 20 grams
- Pear leaves – 20 grams
- Dried lime flower – half a teaspoon
- Sugar – 1 teaspoon
- Lemon peel – from one-third of a fruit
Oak bark can be bought in pharmacies. To remove excess tannins I suggest pour it with boiling water and leave for 10-15 minutes. Decant the decoction and then wash with cold water once again. Pegs (chips) for strong liquor infusion can be found in special distillery stores. Work with them according to the label on the package.
- Wash the lemon with warm water and peel it avoiding the white bitter pulp.
- Put all the ingredients in a fermentation container. Top them off with vodka and stir. Seal the container.
- Infuse for 6-12 days in a dark place at room temperature. After 5 days of aging, taste the drink once a day. When you’ll notice a pleasant flavor and characteristic brandy taste, strain the beverage through cheesecloth and cotton wool. Optionally add more sugar sweeten the drink.
Note. If you over-infuse the drink with oak bark or chips, there is a risk of an unpleasant oak flavor.
- Bottle your homemade Starka for storing and seal it. Let It age for 3-4 days in a cold dark place before trying.
Shelf-life—up to 5 years. 33-36% ABV.