Handsa (or Hansa) is a traditional spirit in the province of Setomaa, which is in South-East Estonia and Russia, on the area from west to Pskov. Originally Handsa is made from rye and malted rye. Sometimes also a bit of wheat is used to soften the taste. Handsa is always made illegally, there is not any legal company producing Handsa in the Setomaa area. It is always distilled twice in pot still and bottled at ‘distillers strength’, 55-65% ABV. It is categorized as Rye Brandy in Estonia. This Handsa is produced and bought in the Estonian countryside and bottled at 61% ABV. 20 cl bottle was 5€.
Fermented rye is strong on the nose, but it is actually quite pleasant. Taste is also fermented rye and a bit sweet at the beginning, but then comes a very hot burn, even I dilute it with water to around 40% strength. Lots of fuse oils on the distillate. Actually when diluted with spring water, the clear spirit changed to bit foggy, maybe due to the fuse oils. This really is something else than cheap neutral vodka sold in all supermarkets. The very hot burn is a bit of too much for me. Maybe the fermentation process of the wash hasn’t been the best possible and have created too much of the fuse oils. I think it should have been distilled still once or twice more to be more palatable. Anyway, this product is a very good example of how the spirits were in the old times, before the column distillation and mass production of cheap rectified spirit which is used to make neutral vodka. I highly recommend to try Handsa if you ever happen to be in South-East Estonia.