It’s mid-February on a cold and blustery winter morning in Michigan. You’re out driving on the streets of Hamtramck, Michigan at 4a.m. (don’t ask us why) and while the city of Detroit sleeps, you notice something odd. There’s a bakery sign lit up – and a line starting from the door wrapping all the way around the city block. You think ‘what on earth are they giving away!?’
Being the curious onlooker that you are, you find a place to park (not too difficult at this hour) and walk up to the line. Instead of the queued people being grumpy and tired, they seem generally upbeat and content. Even a little bit excited – they’re chatting amongst themselves, staying warm by cupping their hands and blowing heat into them, and sharing stories of their mornings. You walk up and ask “What is everyone doing out here?”
“Well it’s Paczki Day!” they say. And as they say it, they’re a bit surprised to deliver an answer, to be honest. This is a tradition around here, after all. How could you never have heard of it? After a bit of idle chat about it, you summon the courage to ask “What’s a Paczki?”
What is a Paczki?
Singular is ‘Paczek’ actually, but we’ll let that slide 😉. Let’s start with the basics. It’s pronounced ‘poonch-key’ and at its core (no pun intended) it’s a jelly-filled, fried (or sometimes baked) donut. There’s raspberry, cherry, lemon, blueberry and a handful of other flavors, but the traditional flavor is actually fig (believe it or not). But to stop there would really not do this pastry justice. It’s a delicious, rich, one-of-a-kind confectionery experience that you might have to drive all the way to Detroit to experience properly.
Detroit is a great place with an array of cultures and history. It’s a melting pot; in the city and metro area, you’ll find communities where certain groups lived within and around the city. One such place is Hamtramck, where Polish immigrants put down roots and started their American Dream. Hamtramck still has a concentration of Polish descendant population. Among the many great cultural contributions they brought to the city was the pastry perfection that gets Detroiters up in the early morning of ‘Fat Tuesday’.
Ok, so..why? Why this specific day? Why this specific treat? Well, these bakeries create this wonderful treat to celebrate the start of Lent, a Christian devotion of Jesus’ time through the desert – 40 days and 40 nights. After Fat Tuesday begins Ash Wednesday and the idea is that the devotee to ‘give up’ a certain luxury item. Fat Tuesday is a way to get one last binge in before one begins the lenten devotion marathon.
Now that we have the entire history down, let’s talk about why Detroit City Distillery decided to get this wonderful treat in liquid form.
One delicious experiment
To give a nod to the Polish heritage present in the city, Detroit City Distillery decided to try a fun experiment. They started out by getting Polish potatoes, flown all the way from Poland and using that to make their distillate. Then, they took 12 dozen Paczki and tossed them into the distillation process to see if the flavors showed up in the final product. Well…did they? Let’s find out.