The History of The Brothers Vilgalys


by Rimas Vilgalys, Founder & CEO

This story starts on a farm near Kretinga, Lithuania. That’s where my grandfather Jonas Vilgalys was born and raised. We call him “Senelis,” a Lithuanian word that means “dear old man.” Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his uncle. When he tells me about his childhood now, it sounds very idyllic and pastoral. The brewmaster from Klaipeda would come every spring to hunt pheasant, and it was Jonas’ job to scare the birds from the bushes. His grandfather kept numerous beehives, made from straw and a hollowed log. The straw was woven into a spiral that came to a point, like a wizard’s hat. My great-great grandfather used beeswax to seal the hive from the rain. The hives were so numerous they took up nearly the whole yard.

Jonas was born in 1919, during a period of upheaval that pervaded all of Europe. He was lucky enough to be educated in Berlin, where he studied civil engineering. After the first world war, Lithuania was a free country for the first time in many years. As the second world war came to an end and the country was re-occupied by the USSR. Senelis and many other educated Lithuanians sought refuge in the US, Canada, and other free nations around the world.

Jonas’ exodus first took him to Montreal, Canada. It was in Canada, that he met my grandmother, Irena Kibirskis. He found a job in New York City working as a civil engineer, and moved to Long Island. It was there that my father Rytas was born. Jonas has since had a successful career, helping to engineer many large projects, including the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Dorton Arena in Raleigh, and even did some work on the St. Louis Arch.

This year he is 92 years old. He now lives with my family in Durham, North Carolina. He has a much simpler job, taking car of our dogs and cats, and getting the mail. With his advancing age, his vision and health are slowly starting to deteriorate. But he is still the most positive and hopeful person I’ve ever known. I’ve never once seen him upset or angry. He approaches each day with the simple ambition to eat well and enjoy his life.

We have a big house, so we’ve always hosted lots of parties. It’s at these gatherings that Senelis really comes alive. He loves to meet new people, even if he can’t remember their names. Once you can understand his accented English, you’ll find out how witty and charming he actually is. He loves to have a couple drinks, some conversation, or just to sit and listen to music. It’s occasions like those which have inspired me to create the Brothers Vilgalys Spirits company.

The idea for Brothers Vilgalys Spirits has come about organically. When I was an undergrad in college, my father came across a recipe for a drink called Krupnikas. We’d never made it before, but there was a Lithuanian gathering coming up soon, and so we figured we would give it a try.

I’ll never forget the first sip I tried. Krupnikas is not a drink of subtle flavors. It announces itself boldly, a delicious mix of sweetness and spice to start. After a sip, you begin to feel the strength behind it, as a gentle warm burn that spreads through your whole body.

It wasn’t long before I wanted to try making it for myself. I had only recently turned 21 and was beginning to appreciate the world of well-crafted beers, spirits, and wines. I started with a recipe from the internet, and although I couldn’t find all the ingredients it called for, I went ahead and tried it anyway.

The result was a huge hit. I brought a flask to a party at one of my friends house. I passed it around the circle, and watched as each person’s eyes lit up with the delicious taste of the spices and honey. Soon enough, I was making batches for my friends, only to have their friends show up asking for some.

The demand for Krupnikas became very obvious. Still, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. It’s illegal to sell alcohol without a license, and the numerous regulations involved kept my interest in spirits to a hobby. I would make enough so that I always had some on hand, but seldom more than that. As the years went on, I practiced, experimented, and perfected my recipe. I tried different kinds of honey, fruit infusions, different brands of neutral spirit. It became a staple holiday drink, when I would make a huge batch and give bottles to all my friends.

Now, after many years of wishing I could start this business, I’m at the point where I’m actually doing it. And so I’m introducing a new spirits brand, Brothers Vilgalys Spirits. My two younger brothers, Gabrielius and Matas, will be helping me, although this is currently my own venture. I’ve also been lucky enough to have the help of a wonderful graphic designer, Meghan O’Brien, and together we’re now starting the creative work behind the brand.

But the brand of Brothers Vilgalys does not start and stop with my family. Nor does it start and stop with Krupnikas. This brand represents what Brotherhood really is. This is a brand to create and market premium libations that bring people together, allow them to connect with one another, and enjoy their lives. These are drinks to be shared, to warm the spirits of the unfortunate and fortunate alike.

With every Brothers Vilgalys product, we begin and end with what’s inside the bottle. Our Krupnikas is delicious, that we already know. But it is more than just a tasty drink. Krupnikas is a bottle of stories, memories, and adventures. When you share it with your friends, family, and the people you love, it will bring happiness and joy to the surface. It is a drink for special moments. In times of trouble or times of celebration, Krupnikas will warm your heart, your lips, and your soul.