Photos: Kevin Pang

My grandmom recently passed away, and at the end of the brief, intimate memorial service we held for her, in typical my-family fashion, we toasted her with a shot of Ozelski-brand Polish Whiskey.

Never heard of it? It’s some seriously small-batch stuff. Polish Whiskey is our family recipe that pops up on holidays, weddings, funerals (apparently), and graduations. My uncle likes to brew up batches and give out bottles with labels he prints at home.

I’d long heard about this famous Polish Whiskey, but didn’t get a chance to try it until 2006 when my grandmom made some for a Christmas get together in Arizona. I was hooked.

It was spicy, sweet, a little herbal—a perfect winter warmer, not that we needed much warming in Scottsdale. Our family isn’t big on traditions, so having something that had been passed down from my great-grandmother was really novel to me. I asked my grandmom for the recipe in 2010, and have made a batch nearly every Christmas since.

Grandmom Cecilia with the author (Photo: Ali Jakobson)

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My favorite part of the recipe, the thing I think makes it uniquely Ozelski, is the pickling spice. Couldn’t you just add the spices separately rather than spending 20 minutes painstakingly removing all the tiny red pepper bits? Sure. But it wouldn’t be the same. Anyway, you never manage to get all of them out, and I think it adds a nice little kick.

Like most people, I didn’t visit my grandmom as much as I should have these past few years. She was tough, and we all kind of thought she would be around forever. Cioci Helen—my great aunt, technically, but we all called her that—just passed away in August at the age of 98. By those standards, my grandmom should have had at least another 12 years. But shit happens.

Now, with her December 3rd birthday just past and Christmas approaching, I find myself thinking about her a lot and wanting to honor her memory in some way. Since I love booze and dislike religion, I decided to make the biggest batch of Polish Whiskey ever this year in her name.

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Sadly, I’m too broke to buy enough Maker’s Mark for all of you guys. So instead, here’s the recipe exactly as my grandmom emailed it to me (yeah, emailed—she was a tech-savvy lady) back in 2010. And if you do make it, do me a favor—pour out a little for my grandmom.

Cecilia’s Polish Whiskey

1/2 gallon 100 proof whiskey*
Strainer, medium size
2 cups boiled water
1 1/2 cups honey
1 cup white sugar
1 bottle pickling spices (Look for McCormick brand—cheaper)
1 Tbsp. whole allspice
2-inch cinnamon stick

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Place whiskey in pot. Be sure it’s big enough to hold all ingredients. Set on low to medium heat until hot but not simmering. Add 2 cups boiled water, honey and sugar.

Keep on heat until all sugar is melted. Again, no simmering. In the pickling spices, you’ll see red pepper pieces—take them out. Put spices in a medium strainer, and add about a tablespoon of whole allspice, and the cinnamon stick.

Carefully, lower strainer into whiskey mix, but be careful not to let the spices escape. Hold strainer there for a minute. Stir and let stand for a few minutes. Taste. Return spices to mix if you want more flavor. I usually do.

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* A handle of Maker’s Mark, though not technically a half gallon, is what I always use. Also, It’s ok to get 80 or 90 proof. Don’t spend big bucks on it. Keep empty bottle for finished product. You’ll probably need another bottle/jar, too.

** Best enjoyed with my grandmom’s favorite snack, Triscuits and Win Schuler’s cheese.