Thursday, 11 February 2010

Diod griafol, pihlaka vein & rowan vodka

Rowan wine

Rowan berries have been used to make various drinks as demonstrated in yesterday's post.

A traditional drink in Wales was called diod griafol, literally 'rowan drink' and it was made, so I have read, by steeping rowan berries in water and allowing them to ferment.  I have tried this several times and have yet to produce anything drinkable, though John Evelyn, the famous diarist and arborist, said it was "an incomparable drink".  (Apparently Evelyn was overly fond of describing things as 'incomparable' so one should not, perhaps put to much store by that.

In the Collections historical & archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire, and its borders (1870) it quotes from a North Wales source in the entry for Criavol "Mountain-ash berries and burnt sugar have been added in brewing ale, to imitate porter. Diod-griavol is still used by the country people as a medicinal beverage."

(One Welsh word for mountain ash/rowan is criafol.  The f is sounded like an English v and, in diod griafol the initial c is mutated to g.  In English mutation of letters only seems to occur in dialect, e.g. I gorra go instead of I've got to go.  But I digress).

In Estonia their pihlaka vein, rowan wine, is made in the same way as cider, by crushing and pressing rowan berries and fermenting the juice.  There is a film illustrating this here.  However, to get it to 17 percent proof, I wonder if they fortify it, perhaps with vodka.

It seems that this drink is a particular speciality in Estonia (one woman said she liked its rather bitter taste) and this is illustrated by the picture at the top of this post and the one below, both from Estonian sources.Rowan wine painting

Despite some research, I have failed to find an equivalent in the neighbouring Baltic countries, though rowan vodka, made by soaking the fruit in the spirit, is quite well-known in places like Poland.

Rosie Macdonald in The Field gave this information on rowan vodka:

"Rowan berries are very astringent. Before ripening they contain tartaric acid; after ripening they have citric and malic acids, the sugar sorbin and the saccharine principle sorbitol.  Ideally the berries are picked when fully ripe and after the first frost, but quite often if you wait until then the birds get there first. Therefore pick the berries when fully ripe but before the first frost. Rinse them carefully, remove the stems and put them in the freezer for a couple of weeks. The frost makes the berries milder and sweeter.  Put 800ml berries in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover the berries with vodka and allow to steep for one to four weeks in the dark at room temperature. Shake lightly and taste it occasionally. Strain and filter your infusion into a glass bottle. Store for a minimum of two months in a dark place at room temperature. Continue to store the vodka in this way, even during use, as heat and direct sunlight can cause unwanted change to its colour and aroma."

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Estonian rowan wine

I have come across an Estonian label for rowan wine from the 1970s.

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The leaf and fruit are clearly rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, and 'Pihlaka-vein' translates as 'rowan wine', while the Russian at the bottom of the label means, I think, the same thing.  'Valga veini-tehas' is the Valga winery (Valga is a town in south eastern Estonia).  The 17 per cent must be the proof level and is roughly the same as many fortified wines like sherry.  The 0,5 L (bottom right) denotes that the label was on a half litre bottle.

I wonder if this is the same, or similar, to the 'beer', diod griafol, of the Welsh brewed from rowan berries (more of this on some future occasion).

The label is, or was, being offered for sale.  For details, follow this link.