Boilo is an alcoholic beverage consisting of a blend of fruits, sweeteners, spices, and whiskey. It is traditionally served during the winter holiday season and it is most definitely a Schuylkill County / Coal Region thing.
Boilo has become so popular in Schuylkill County and The Coal Region, that bars, fire departments, and even the Schuylkill County Fair hold boilo competitions.
Watch my “how to make boilo step-by-step video!
Every boilo maker has their recipe and every boilo maker is positive theirs is the best! The recipe basics are pretty much the same, but just about every person’s prized version differs slightly in amounts of ingredients and perhaps a “secret” ingredient here or there. Many boilo makers guard their “family recipes” like Fort Knox.
For someone wanting to try their hand at making boilo, or for someone who has never had it – or never heard of it, this recipe is a starting point; feel free to alter to your own personal taste.
The Lithuanian connection
The invention of Lithuanian immigrants, boilo shares ingredients with krupnikas, a traditional spiced honey liquor that has been consumed in Lithuania and Poland (where it is called krupnik) for centuries. The beverage also appears to be related to viryta, a drink popular with the Lithuanian-American community of Baltimore. “Viryta” is derived from the Lithuanian word for “boil” or “cook.”
Although not confirmed, chances are high this beverage with the kick of a mine mule got its start in and around Schuylkill County. The coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania brought numerous Lithuanians and other European immigrants to the region. During this first wave of Lithuanian immigration, Schuylkill County was essentially the center of Lithuanian activity in America and Shenandoah was its “capital city” (known to the Lithuanians as “Shenadorius.”)
Boilo is fondly referred to these days as “The Champagne of the Coal Region”, but was also known as “the Anthracite miner’s cure for everything” and used as a home remedy to treat aches, pains, colds and flu. Weary miners who toiled throughout the day in cold, damp mines would sip a small glass of boilo after their shift.
A holiday tradition
Many a “coalcracker” is familiar with a pot of boilo being kept warm on the back burner of the stove or in a slow-cooker, ready to be offered to visiting friends and neighbors who come to call during the Christmas season. Boilo makers often place their brew in canning jars and give the boilo as gifts to lucky recipients!
In years gone by, boilo was made with moonshine, but today’s boilo makers often use Four Queens, an inexpensive blended whiskey distilled by Laird & Company, Scobeyville, NJ.
In fact, Schuylkill County buys so much Four Queens (according to PA Liquor Control Board statistics) that the distiller says that Schuylkill Countians alone are responsible for the product’s continued existence.
A 1954 feature in Allentown’s (Pa.) The Morning Call states, “Only one drink is recommended, but a second is permissible. A third is usually denied because of boilo’s potency.”
An “explosive” reputation
The old wives’ tales and rumors of boilo “exploding” likely tie in to people adding highly flammable alcohol while the pot was still over an open flame on the stove. (Always remove the pot from the heat source when adding alcohol to any dish or recipe! )
Remember, the hotter the base mixture is when you add the alcohol, the more alcohol will be lost to evaporation. So, the best rule of thumb is not to boil the boilo after adding the alcohol!
Locate Four Queens in PA at Pennsylvania State Stores
Fine Wine and Good Spirits
Serve up your boilo in these!
Coal Region BoiloCourse: BeverageCuisine: Coal Region, Eastern EuropeanDifficulty: Intermediate
Boilo is an alcoholic beverage consisting of a blend of fruits, sweeteners, spices, and whiskey. It is traditionally served during the winter holiday season in Schuylkill County in the Anthracite Coal Region.
1 (750 ml) bottle Four Queens whiskey (or any inexpensive blended whiskey)
4 whole oranges
4 whole lemons
2 cups of honey
2 cinnamon sticks
2 Tablespoons dark raisins
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon whole allspice berries
12 whole cloves
1 liter ginger ale OR orange juice or water (your choice)
- Cut the whole oranges and lemons into quarters. Squeeze the pieces to release the juice then add the unpeeled squeezed fruit to the pot. Add the ginger ale, orange juice, or water to the pot. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot EXCEPT the whiskey.
- Bring to boil; reduce heat and slowly simmer, stirring frequently, for about 20 – 25 minutes.
- Once the fruit is softened and mushed from cooking, strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer to remove the solids and spices. (If strainer is not fine enough to catch spices, use a regular colander lined with several layers of cheesecloth.) Press the pieces of fruit using the back of a spoon in the strainer to remove all the liquid. Discard the remains of the fruit/spices.
- Allow the mixture to cool slightly (adding alcohol to very hot or boiling liquid will cook off some alcohol thereby defeating the entire purpose of boilo; so, don’t boil your boilo!!) Away from heat, add the bottle of whiskey. Stir to blend.
- Serve boilo warm in shot glasses. Individual servings can be lightly re-warmed in a microwave if not serving immediately.
- Refrigerate left overs or store in a cool place in a closed container (canning jars are popular).