The Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas, a widely-anticipated spiced honey liqueur made by Durham’s first legal distilled spirits plant, will debut on Durham County ABC shelves this Thursday, the 17th of January. This timing is especially important given that Durham is currently vying for the top spot in Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South promotion in which Durham was named a top ten contender alongside powerhouse destinations like Charleston, Miami, and New Orleans.
The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits Company was started by Rimas Vilgalys, a Lithuanian-American and Durham native. Vilgalys started with a homemade recipe that he and his father had been making for friends and family for years. Inspired by the popularity of the liqueur at parties, as well as the strong support for locally owned businesses in Durham, Vilgalys began researching and writing a business plan in 2011. In April 2012, he leased a commercial space on Ramseur St and began the process of applying for permits, buying equipment, and setting up a space to blend the drink.
To fund the project, Vilgalys used money he’d inherited, and also started the Brothers Vilgalys Founder’s Club, selling lifetime club memberships to friends, family, and community members who wanted to support the project. At the time of this writing, the Founder’s Club has sold 125 memberships.
“The Founder’s Club really embodies my reasons for starting this company,” says Vilgalys. “When I started making Krupnikas, I just wanted to make something delicious and share it with my friends. And after the first batch, it seems like people just kept asking where they could get more.”
Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas, which is already on shelves in some Wake and Orange County ABC stores, is made from a recipe using whole spices, North Carolina wildflower honey, and a neutral spirit base distilled from corn. Vilgalys has started out purchasing the alcohol from a supplier, but hopes to transition to distilling his own spirits in the future.
“The truth is the equipment for a full distillery is just too expensive right now,” says Vilgalys. “But sourcing everything locally is an important priority to me. As we expand, I’m hoping to start distilling our own alcohol and also run everything on sustainable energy. I’m particularly interested in a technology called wood-gasification, which would let us turn timber residues like sawdust or wood chips into clean-burning, locally sourced, and fossil-fuel free energy.”
The drink itself is described by Vilgalys as a smooth sipping liqueur that is very tasty on its own, or can be mixed in many different cocktails. It starts out with a sweet honey taste, and finishes with a pleasantly spicy warmth along with a lasting flavor. Some of the stronger spices include cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and star anise, but with 16 different botanicals used, the drink has a very layered taste without any single spice dominating the pallette.
“Compared to other honey spirits, our drink has more complexity and depth to its flavor,” notes Vilgalys. “Other honey spirits use clover or agave honey, which is cheaper, but not as flavorful. We don’t compromise on any part of this spirit. I use only whole spices and raw wildflower honey. Even the commercial brands of Krupnikas in Lithuania and Poland don’t do that.”
The Brothers Vilgalys Krupnikas retails at $29.95 for a 750 ml bottle. The product is 40% alcohol by volume, and should always be enjoyed responsibly. More information, including a directory of liquor stores, bars, and restaurants carrying the product are available on their website. News and updates related to the product are published on their Facebook and Twitter (@BrosVilgalys).
“I really think this is a great drink that almost any adult can enjoy,” concludes Vilgalys. “Whether you usually drink spirits, beer, wine, or cocktails, this is something accessible and pleasing to almost anyone. It’s great to bring to parties or give as a gift. I wouldn’t say it’s only for special occasions, but it would make any occasion a special one.”
Learn more about Durham-made goods online.