Fermented Juniper Tonic: Smreka

What You'll Need

  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 cup dried juniper berries
  • 4 cups unchlorinated water
I forget how I stumbled across this recipe, exactly. I have a memory of researching the edibility of various conifer needles, in some unrelated culinary wormhole, but the details are hazy. I remember my reaction, though, which was to instantly copy down the recipe on a scrap of paper, and to make it soon after. The recipe was simple and did not disappoint, highlighting the wild, woodsy flavor of the juniper, the sour tang of fermentation. 

This recipe comes from one of the world's Fermentation Bibles, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World by Sandor Elix Katz.

Smreka is a traditional Balkan ferment, often consumed with a teaspoon of sugar or honey added after the initial infusion and fermentation period. The dusty blue bloom on juniper berries is made up of wild yeast, but because there is very little sugar in the recipe, there is not much food for the yeast. If the berries are strained and a small amount of sugar added to smreka in a clamp-top bottle, the beverage may be carbonated in the same way as kombucha or water kefir; however, it is traditionally drunk without carbonation.

Please be sure of your identification and do not forage for wild foods unless you are an expert at plant identification. Juniper berries can easily be purchased in most markets.


Wash the lemon and quarter it, leaving the skin on. 
Place two lemon quarters and the juniper berries in a large clean jar, and pour the water over them. Secure the lid loosely.
juniper berries
mix smrekaSet the jar in a warm, sunny window, and allow it to infuse and ferment for 10-14 days. The berries will float at first, but by the end many of them will have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Agitate the jar once a day, to prevent the formation of surface molds.
ferment near a window
When the ferment has reached a flavor you like, strain the liquid into a clean bottle and store in a cool place. A flavor that seems too strong can be diluted with water, sparkling or otherwise.
strain liquidSugar or honey may be added to taste. A splash of bitters is welcome, or a handful of muddled mint.
finished smreka

Over to You

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