A Taste of EUFORIA
A chat with Czech birch sap innovator and book restorer Jan Klimeš.
Originally from Brno in Moravia, paper artisan Jan Klimeš and his architect wife Nada lived fifteen years in Prague before moving to the remote countryside near Tabor to restore a barn in 2013. Exploring his new surroundings, Klimeš began experimenting with tapping the abundant local birch trees for sap. He refined a method for preserving the bottled sap with natural lacto-fermentation, working in a cellar under his home, and began commercializing his saps under the Euforia label in 2019.
Today Klimeš’ birch saps - infused with a plethora of evocative elements ranging from rose, lilac, and Earl Grey tea to blackthorn and wild hops - have found fans in influential Prague restaurants including Eska and La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, not to mention his early supporter Jan Čulik’s Tábor wine bar Thir. In 2021, Klimeš produced 6000 bottles, from about ninety trees.
I first tasted a Euforia birch sap - one produced with wine lees from Milan Nestarec - during a trip to Austria with Čulik and our friends from Jenny & François Imports this past August. It was a revelation: dazzling and berry-tinted, with a subtlety and a purity unprecedented in the realm of non-alcoholic beverages. So I was delighted to meet Klimeš in person - and taste more of his, alcohol-free luminous birch saps - at Čulik’s Bottled Alive wine fair in Tábor.
EUFORIA’S JAN KLIMEŠ: AN INTERVIEW
The following interview was conducted in mid-January over a messaging app, with the extensive aid of Google Translate. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Where are you based?
I live in a small village called Bezděčín, near Obratan. I'm a paper and book restorer. I also make archive boxes for museums, notebooks, lamp shades, and everything related to paper.
How did you come to produce fermented birch sap?
After fifteen years with my family in Prague, we decided to go to the countryside. My wife is an architect and she was interested in barns that could be converted into a house. During the first year in the barn, I remembered that in the spring you can drill birches for sap that can be drunk. It wasn’t possible in the city, but here there are birches all around.
I drilled a tree and about five liters of fresh birch sap flowed out during the day. It tasted fresh, like glacier water! I drank lots of it. I didn't yet know that birch sap detoxifies the body. But I began to feel better and better. I woke up earlier, stopped drinking alcohol, stopped drinking coffee, stopped eating sweets.
I became interested in sap and found out a lot of information. It is literally full of minerals. The only thing that surprised me was that, if the sap was left in the container for a long time, it started to ferment and go milky. It wasn't good. So I started looking for ways to preserve it for the winter.
How did you manage to preserve the sap?
I did not find any recipe on the Internet that seemed clean. Everywhere I looked, they suggested pasteurization, sugar addition, preservation, freezing, etc. I came across a lot of birch sap products that are filtered, from which the minerals have been removed. They have organic certification, but they’re not interesting to taste.
I searched and searched until one day I came across a young man in Lithuania who was collecting birch sap and successfully preserved it by adding only a mint leaf and raisins.
So I experimented and made my first thirty bottles of birch sap with mint, or tea, or fir. After about two months, I pulled a few bottles out of the cellar and opened them with my wife. After opening, the drink began to sparkle very lightly. The smell and taste were amazing.
I only learned later that the fermentation was due to lactic bacteria, so there is no alcohol.
So your saps are produced entirely without alcohol or preservatives?
It is 100% birch sap, then I add, for example, rose, cumin, tea, grape pomace, etc. Everything is put in bottle, then left to mature in the cellar for about 2-3 months. Non-alcoholic natural lactic fermentation takes place in the bottle. It is not pasteurized, it has no sugars, no preservatives. It is protected by its own fermentation.
After fermentation, the bottle can also be subject to warmer temperatures and nothing will happen to it. I also had alcohol tests done: 0.0% alcohol. It is water filtered by tree roots.
In 2021 I made, among others, the following flavors: poppy, fir, incense, currants, blackthorn, oolong and earl gray teas, rose, elderberry, cumin, lilac, birch leaves, and several varieties of grape pomace from the wines Milan Nestarec. Every year I experiment with new flavors. Unfortunately I can find no quality resources or inspiration on the Internet.
Where are your birch saps sold?
At present, Euforia is sold mainly in restaurants and bistrots where there are natural wines. Outside the Czech Republic, it’s sold a little in the Netherlands. Everything is okay for shipment to the Netherlands and in the European Union, but outside the EU it will be complicated.
Do you have an idea how long the sap can be kept?
Euforia lasts for many years in the bottle. Its taste matures and it can be archived. I drank one about four years old and it was perfect. There is no alcohol, but thanks to the birch sap you feel good, the sap cools the body a bit and quenches the thirst in the summer.
293 01 Mlada Boleslav
A visit to Jan Čulik’s Bottled Alive natural wine fair in the Czech town of Tabor.
A Cure for Dry January: Why handcrafted non-alcoholic beverages from within the natural wine world are the future.
An excellent 2019 piece on Euforia by Lucie Kohoutová at Jídlo a radost. (In Czech.)
A beautifully photographed feature on Klimeš and his family and their home at Naokraj. (In Czech.)
Would an exploration of natural birch sap production be of interest to someone else in your life?