It’s debatable whether juniper beer, which is made of fermented juniper berries, should be called a beer at all. Unlike beers merely flavored with juniper berries, this low-alcohol, fizzy beverage contains no malt or grains. It is known as psiwo kozicowe in Kurpie, a northeastern region of Poland. After falling out of favor in the mid-20th century, the rare style is enjoying a revival.
Juniper “berries” are not actually berries, but rather the female seed cone produced by juniper plants such as the common juniper (Juniperus communis). The cones’ fleshy, merged scales give them a berry-like appearance, so they are referred to as “pseudo-fruits” by botanists.
Some scholars suggest that juniper beer initially gained popularity in Kurpie when bishops opposed the local production of vodka. To keep the clergy happy, the peasants turned to a lighter homemade beverage. By the 1960s, juniper beer was largely forgotten in Poland, but it has experienced a recent resurgence. In the 1990s, Kurpie residents began selling the beer at a folklore events designed for tourists, using recipes they remembered from their childhoods.
Contemporary Kurpie recipes use water, juniper berries, sugar or honey, hops, and yeast. After brewing for three days, the resulting beer has a resinous flavor and fragrance characteristic of juniper. Although Kurpie’s juniper beer has been popularized in the Polish press, it is not sold in shops. Currently, you can obtain the beer only from home producers at folklore events, village fetes, and culinary festivals.