Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Eastern European Moonshine: Rakija, Palinka, Slivovitz

Some of the greatest moments when traveling to Eastern Europe is when you are handed a vessel that doesn't contain its original liquid. Instead it is filled with homemade palinka or slivovitz, a fruit brandy distilled clear and usually at exceedingly high abv - sometimes reaching 70 proof. The liquid has heat, but in the best cases portrays the fruit nicely with a burn that evaporates rather quickly. The brandy is derived from a range of harvested fruit such as peaches, plums, Meggy (sour cherries), Quince, Grapes, Pears, or Apples and has different versions throughout central and eastern Europe: Albania, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia.

In most of these countries the spirit is called Rakija or the domestic equivalent to that word and is usually the most popular spirit in that country. In Serbia it is known as Slivovitz, made from plums, and is that country's national drink. In Hungary and parts of Austria it is known as Palinka and the first records of its consumption date from 1332. Landowners, Cistercian monks and Jewish residents continued the traditional methods of double distilled after the fruit has naturally fermented. Today Palinka is widely produced and consumed both legally and illegally and the government is currently battling the EU to legalize the distillation of small quantities of palinka for home use. Home distillation is so popular in Hungary that department stores sell small distilling kits.

In Croatia where Rakija is the most popular spirit, it is sometimes infused with herbs to create Travarica which is usually served at the beginning of meals. Croats in central Croatia enjoy šljivovica, a version of plum brandy, and in throughout the Adriatic different islands and regions infuse with bitters, anise, walnuts, and honey.

In the Washington DC area, access to this spirit is limited. In Virginia most ABC stores carry the kosher Maraska Slivovitz Old Plum Brandy made in the historic city of Zadar. The ABC store in the Arlington section of Courthouse carries a range of Slivovitz from Serbia and Bosnia and in Clarendon or DC check at the Ambar Restaurant which carries a range of Serbian Slivovitz. The Quince is my favorite. In DC, MacArthur Beverages and Schneider's of Capitol Hill carry the Czech Jelinek Slivovitz and many others stores carry a version of Serbian Slivovitz. And in Maryland, the Montgomery County stores carry both the aforementioned Jelinek and Maraska labels as well as the Hungarian Zwack Slivovitz. Cheers.

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