Maitrank or maiwein is a seasonal flavored wine, a specialty from the Arlon region in southeastern Belgium, obtained by the maceration of sweetscented bedstraw flowers (Galium odoratum) in white wine from the Luxembourg Moselle region. The flower blooms in the month of May, hence the name of the drink. Maitrank has different variations: some like it with a strong flavor of bedstraw; others prefer it sweeter and more winey. However, the basic ingredients always remain the same: dry white wine from the Luxembourg Moselle, sweetscented bedstraw, sugar, and orange. Maitrank is usually prepared using Riesling or Elbling wines, but some people from Arlon prefer using a less dry wine called Rivaner (also known as Müller-Thurgau). The wine belongs to a 2000-year tradition of winemaking on the shores of Moselle River. The sweetscented bedstraw must be collected before it completes its blossoming in order to keep its full taste and scent. Preparation of the drink uses 12-18 flowers per liter, depending on the size of the plant and strength of the flavor desired. In the sub-region of Pays d’Arlon the preparation of maitrank is still strong. Bedstraw is picked at the end of April, before blossoming, and is put to macerate in the white wine along with the other basic ingredients. The amount of sugar used is usually no less than 8 sugar cubes for every liter of wine. A sliced orange is also added to each liter. Variations include adding cognac, port, cointreau or other liqueurs, cinnamon, and sometimes blackcurrant leaves or lemon. Maceration is traditionally done in large ceramic jars for 48 hours and frequently stirred to assure an even fermentation. Once the drink is ready, it is filtered into bottles and served fresh with a slice of orange. Maitrank appears in documents belonging to the Benedictine monks from the German Abbey of Prüm, dating as far as 854. People living in the wine-growing region in Germany had begun to regulate wine acidity by adding seasonal plants to macerate. The monks were aware of bedstraw’s medicinal properties (digestive, tonic and antispasmodic) and let the flowers macerate in the wine before drinking it in spring. They offered it to villagers and travellers and consequentially the local population soon took on this tradition. With improvements in winemaking, the practice of adding plants to modify wines was progressively lost and, though the recipe for maitrank survived, it was only prepared at home. In the 1950s maitrank saw a comeback when the monks’ recipe was adapted by adding sugar, orange and a bit of cognac to slow down a second fermentation. Traditional maitrank is produced only using fresh bedstraw. Less than 1000 bottles are produced annually, and it has a very small commercial market. Many people make it for home consumption, though there are a few small producers who sell it directly or to distributors. The city of Arlon celebrates a maitrank festival on the third weekend of May each year, and it is promoted locally. However, it faces competition among drinkers from more commercially produced drinks.
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