Every Christmas season, a giant Christmas tree stands in the center square of Kuressaare, a town were about 13,000 souls live, located on the densely-forested Estonian island of Saaremaa.
And, in January, it is cut down and lands directly in the cocktails of European drinkers, from Romania to France.
This curious second life is part of a local distillery’s mission to transform Northern European Christmas trees into tonics.
The eco-friendly project was started by Estonian couple Maarit Pöör, an art teacher, and Tarmo Virki, a journalist and publicist, who created Estonic Soda in 2019, three years after they founded Lahhentagge Distillery in Saaremaa.
The soda, avaible in three flavors, spruce, juniper and Pärnu Suvi (literally “Pärnu summer,” referencing the city that’s considered the “summer capital of Estonia”), uses extracts from pulped needles and branches of spruce or silver fir Christmas trees, as well from juniper trees, which are plentiful in Saaremaa.
This tonic is a particularly fitting invention for Estonia because of the country’s long-standing cultural connection to Christmas trees.
Estonia was in fact reputedly the first nation to display public Christmas trees. According to Estonian lore, a merchant association called the Brotherhood of Blackheads erected a tree in the town hall square of Tallinn in 1441, even though this is disputed by the city of Riga, in neighboring Latvia, which claims to be the real birthplace of the public Christmas tree.
Either way, nowadays, many Estonians venture into the forest to collect their own Christmas trees, using a government app that guides them to available trees and lets them pay for the permit to cut them down. Maarit Pöör says she long wondered about recycling these trees to create a drink.
However, these trees could not easily be pulped to create something good because they were too withered after sitting inside warm homes for the whole festive season. And then she realized they could instead use the much larger Christmas trees in public spaces, which don’t dry out in the same way.
In Northern Europe in fact the public Christmas trees are usually massive, and the climate is also such that they are basically in a freezer for two months.
And now, after the holiday season is over, the two harvest and squash their needles and branches for their extract. They let that infuse with other ingredients for a few days before the essence of the drinks is filtered, carbonated and watered, and eventually bottled.
The transparent Pärnu Suvi variety of Estonic Soda is infused with silver fir extracts and lemon peel, which gives it a refreshing, citrusy taste, while the light-yellow-colored spruce variety is similarly zesty thanks to cardamom and lemon peel. Juniper Estonic Soda, on the other hand, has a deeper golden hue due to the extracts of coriander, tangerine peel, and juniper tree, which their creators described as especially refreshing and imbued with a taste of Christmas spirit.
The sodas are designed to be alcoholic mixers, perfect, for example, for a classic gin and tonic.
Green ventures like Estonic Soda are popular in Estonia, that was ranked the 14th most eco-friendly nation in the world on Yale’s 2022 Environmental Performance Index.
Along with recycling the branches and needles of Kuressaare’s town-square Christmas tree, for example, the town also recycles its trunk for burning at its annual Midsummer Festival in June!
And also soda is a great example of upcycling something which would otherwise go to landfill and be wasted.
And, if this new festive tradition will spread beyond Europe with Estonic Soda franchises sprouting like spruce saplings, Christmas trees all across the world will earn a new life in the form of sparkling drink.
But did you know that, standing at 17 meters tall, Kuressaare’s public Christmas tree provides enough extracts to infuse up to 40,000 bottles of Estonic Soda with a volume of 250 milliliters?
Images from web – Google Research