After starting the smreka project in late spring, I finally have some cool refreshing liquid to drink. Smreka is a simple fermented drink found in Bosnia. People there pick juniper berries, let them sit in water for a month, then enjoy it with a bit of sugar. Because the juniper berries have only a small amount of sugar, smreka has negligible alcohol. One thing to be cautious of, when choosing your juniper berries, is that some species are poisonous. I have Rocky Mountain junipers (Juniperus scopulorum) growing in my yard – some of the local microdistilleries use these berries for their gin.
One thing I realized once we embarked on the actual juniper berry picking, is that one reaps meager rewards for one’s effort. That’s why I enlisted my kids to help, and making it a family affair made it much more fun. Once we had the berries, I let them dry for a couple months (more out of not having enough time to start the brew than out of any practical concern). When I was finally ready to ferment the berries, I boiled eight gallons of water, let it cool, and added 2 cups of berries to a 6 gallon carboy and smaller amounts to a couple growlers.
I intended to use the growlers to make a more traditional smreka, without adding anything but the berries. The traditional drink is generally ready after about a month, when the berries sink to the bottom. I agitated the berries almost daily for a few weeks to keep any surface mold from growing, but then I dropped the ball for a week or so at the end, and sure enough there was a whitish film growing at the top of the lid by the time I was ready to test it out. Not one to readily waste things, I tried it nonetheless. I don’t drink a lot of cat pee, but this had a distinct cat pee taste to it. Still not one to waste things, I put it in the fridge, and surprisingly, a week later the cat pee taste was much diminished in one of the growlers – enough so that I got my daughter to try some. Sadly, the other bottle was irredeemable, so it went down the drain.
Fortunately, I had much better success with the 6-gallon batch. To this batch, I added enough household sugar to get the alcohol potential just over 6%. I added Pasteur Champagne yeast, threw in the stopper and airlock, and let it ferment in the basement for well over a month, agitating it every day or two. Fermentation was visibly apparent for over a month, with little bubbles effervescing through the berries at the top. The berries never did sink to the bottom. When fermentation was done, I checked the alcohol and it was indeed a little over 6%. I tried some flat and decided, despite my aversion to bottling, that this would be a drink best drunk carbonated. The flat stuff was about what I expected, tangy, slightly ginny.
So the smreka experiment was a huge success – one of the best drinks we’ve made thus far. Here’s the vid: