If you are a connoisseur of exotic liquors, and have been traveling along the highways and byways of internet, you may have run across the term kilju. You probably saw it and wondered the same thing I did: what on earth is kilju?
The short answer is that it’s something produced by Finnish liquor laws. The technical answer is that is a very strong spirit produced by a fermentation process involving sugar, yeast, water, and not much else.
Kilju is often found as homebrew liquor, referred to in English often as sugar wine. It also is something you drink to get drunk and fast. You will wake up with a brutal hangover. It is pronounced “kill-you”, which should serve as a warning against overindulgence. Kilju is a poor man’s drink, easy to make cheaply and quickly. Some preppers recommend brewing kilju as a fuel or for medical sterilization.
While there is a tradition of kilju going back for some time, these days it is produced in large part due to Finland’s longstanding and rather draconian liquor laws. All alcohol in Finland is heavily regulated. It may only be sold in licensed restaurants and the stores run by the government agency Alko.
With such strict laws governing alcohol, it isn’t surprising that home distillation is outlawed. That has yet to stop the Finns, however, and makes the task of brewing kilju more of a challenge. A brief period of prohibition in the early 1930s made this view even more pronounced.
Kilju typically has an ABV content of 15% to 17%. The best kilju, properly made, is clear and colorless. It has no taste except for alcohol. Most, if not all, kilju is made by Finnish moonshiners, and they often produce it with impurities that add a cloudy look to the liquor, which can taste rather unpleasant. Because of this, kilju is often mixed with juice or other strong tasting mixers. One of the more interesting traits of kilju is that it’s possible to drink properly stored kilju years after it’s been made; it doesn’t turn into vinegar very easily.
Some brewers add other things into their kilju mix for taste, like grain, berries, potatoes, oranges, lemons and other fruit. This also helps them dodge at least some legal issues since the base mix for kilju (sugar, yeast, water) is illegal in Finland.
Since making kilju has become an anti-authoritarian act, it’s become a popular drink on the Finnish punk rock scene. If you’re looking for pure kilju, you’re not likely to find it for sale in very many places, but it’s very easy to homebrew, since the ingredients are so simple. If you have a home brewing setup, or know someone who does, and would like to try kilju in its purest form to get in on a Finnish tradition, making it is the best way to try out some kilju, at least if you don’t live in Finland. Just be careful if you are brewing kilju or any other kind of liquor, as the results can be toxic or even explosive if you’re not careful.
If you are really looking for the straight kilju taste, here is a smart set of instructions for making it. It’s simple and might be an interesting way to see if any kind of home brewing is for you.
Kilju is part of the process used to make Finnish moonshine, or ponntika. That is a bit easier to find on the market and some is even sold by Alko. Ponntika is created by distilling kilju—meaning, if you’re looking for the best brands of kilju, your best bet is finding some good pontikka. Kilju is not distilled at all, just fermented, so drinking it can be an experience. Pontikka generally has a bit of flavor, but it’s fairly high in alcohol content, as you expect from moonshine. The brands we feature here can be found from the Finnish government-run alcohol store Alko (which does indeed have an English language website). Take a look at these liquors if you’re looking to try kilju and don’t want to try home brewing. Also, brace yourself for some syllables.
Helsinki Tyrnipontikka, Helsinki Distillery
The Helsinki Tyrnipontikka is a high class nod to traditional finish distilling…by which the craftsmen at Helsinki Distillery mean kilju and its distillate. It’s flavored with sea buckthorn berries, which makes it very aromatic. Sea buckthorn is another Finish cultural tradition, used in many recipes ranging from pie to tea to liquor. Helsinki Tyrnipontikka is a unique blend of Finnish tastes and traditions. It works well on its own if you want a bit of bite, or as a base for cocktails if you’re looking something different and/or distinctly Finnish.
Tyryn Marjapontikka, Tyryn Wine
This brand of Finnish moonshine is a bit more off the beaten track than the Tyrnipontikka. It’s a light and dry liquor, good for mixed drinks, without the same sea buckthorn flavor as the liquor from the Helsinki Distillery. Tyryn Wine largely produces wine from fruits and berries, so this moonshine was produced from kilju and currants. The bottle looks the part of Finnish Moonshine, too, if you want to add a bit of atmosphere to your drinking, with a simple black and white label on a clear bottle.
Tervapontikka, Ollinmäen Winery
This is a unique liquor. Described as an herbal liquor with a tar aroma (yes, tar), it is rather sweet and works as a dessert drink or a base for one. It’s also the most affordable of the kilju-based liquors we have on this list. Ollinmäen Winery is one of several wineries that took advantage of changes to Finland’s liquor laws in the mid 1990s to produce their own range of wines and other liquors.
Ollinmäen Marjapontikk, Ollinmäen Winery
Another offering from Ollinmäen Winery, this liquor has a more berry taste than its herbal cousin and it is quite a dry liquor. It may work better for you if you’re looking for that kilju taste (or lack thereof) but still want a hint of flavor to take the edge off.
Did we miss any kilju based brands? Let us know!