Boilo: A coal country cocktail

By SANDY LONG

NORTHEASTERN PA — Intensely fragrant steam rises from the simmering pot. Fruits, spices and honey swirl in a kaleidoscope of colors and holiday scents of cinnamon, cloves and caraway. Boilo-making has begun.

The traditional Yuletide drink of the anthracite coal region in Northeast and East Central Pennsylvania, Boilo has simmered on coal stoves for many years as generations of miners perfected recipes to sip and share with family and friends during the holiday season.

Coal region lore has it that Boilo helps to fend off seasonal ailments such as colds and flus. The syrupy drink is heated and sipped slowly, encouraging lingering conversations and thoughtful ruminations. As the drink is consumed, its heady fragrance wakes the senses and warms the body.

Based on a traditional Lithuanian drink known as Krupnickas, today’s Boilo is a honey-based liquor made with fruits such as oranges and lemons, boiled together with spices like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, caraway and anise seed. After boiling, the highly fragrant liquid is traditionally doused with grain alcohol or moonshine, though most makers today use a whiskey like Four Queens instead.

Many from the coal region have fond memories linked to Boilo. Some have made it a part of their own holiday traditions. The basic recipe is creatively modified according to the tastes and innovativeness of its maker, and hometown competitions are held to select the best Boilo of the season. As such, certain Boilo-crafters develop a local renown for their achievements.

When making Boilo, it’s important to set a festive scene, thereby imbuing the beverage with the spirit of its maker. One friend begins the process by decorating the kitchen with holiday lights, selecting spirited holiday music and inviting friends over to relax near the coal stove as the Boilo simmers nearby.

Each person takes a turn stirring the pot, and the event concludes, of course, with samples all around. Talk continues as the finished liquor cools enough to bottle. Guests leave with a still-warm flask tucked into a purse or pocket.

Following is a basic Boilo recipe for beginners. Experiment with the addition of various fruits such as apples or pears to make this recipe your own. See www.coalregion.com/Recipes/boilo.htm for additional recipes. Also visit the link that appears at the bottom of the web page for a traditional Lithuanian recipe for Krupnickas.

BOILO

Ingredients

1 pint water

4 oranges, quartered

3 lemons, quartered

6 cinnamon sticks

teaspoon whole allspice

teaspoon whole cloves

1 cup raisins or currants

1 tsp. caraway seeds

4 pounds clover honey

gallon 190-proof grain alcohol or your choice of whiskey

Method

Mix water, honey, fruit and spices in a large pot. Heat to low boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, stirring often. Strain into a large pot. Add alchohol, stir and heat to a low boil. Remove immediately from heat and bottle. Keep refrigerated. When serving, heat until warm and sip from shot-sized glasses.

TRR photo by Sandy Long
Boilo simmers on the stove (Click for larger version)
TRR photo by Sandy Long
(Click for larger version)