How the Czechs Spin the Bottle
Slivovice, or “plum brandy” as it’s often translated, is not something unique to the Czech Republic; however, you will hear about this powerful concoction very soon after your arrival in the country. It is a point of pride, particularly in the central and south Moravian districts, and you will certainly be offered a shot of it by someone if you visit the eastern part of the country for any significant length of time.
Variations of slivovice can be found widely in Slavic countries and many people take great pride in producing it privately from their own fruit trees. While commercially produced slivovice can be purchased with ease, it is often considered inferior to home brewed varieties as it typically has a lower alcohol content than the 50%-52% by volume that is considered standard for “classic” home brewed versions of the drink.
The beginnings of the Czech relationship with slivovice are somewhat debatable. Some people will tell you that it simply comes from Moravia in general while others will be more specific about where in Moravia the drink was first made. From there, conversations will often gravitate to where specifically the best slivovice comes from.
Generally, the origin of slivovice production in the Czech lands is considered to be the Wallachian region of Moravian Silesia in the north east of the country and was possibly brought there by Balkan immigrants in the 16th century. Wallachia is, today, considered to have the finest quality plums for the purposes of making slivovice.
As plums are not the only fruit grown in Moravia, you will likely also encounter variations on slivovice based on other fruit, for example: hrušovice from pears, merunkovice from apricots or broskovice from peaches to name a few.
Strange Brew, Kill What’s Inside of You
Slivovice is seen as more than just a beverage and medicinal qualities are attributed to it. A shot of slivovice is said to be able to calm an upset stomach or ease a toothache.
That a drink with an average by volume alcohol content of around 50% works to ease such pains should be no mystery as it would be as much anesthetic as aperitif. In my own experience I can say that a shot of it will work on an upset stomach and a quick rinse and gargle with the stuff will also ease a sore throat or toothache.
That is not to say that it should be used as any sort of preventative measure to ailments or as an alternative to professional care if your symptoms persist.
Getting the Most from Slivovice
Czechs seem to have a love-hate relationship with slivovice with some being quite fond of it while others despise it entirely. By my own experience, it’s not difficult to understand as the divide between good and bad slivovice can be every bit as stark as attitudes towards it.
In good quality slivovice, the alcohol content should never obscure the aroma or flavour of the fruit used to make the drink. If all you can taste is the alcohol, that’s definitely not good quality.
There are two main schools of thought on how best to drink slivovice:
Drinking it chilled, though never with ice, is said to help the body manage the alcohol better, though this does come at the expense of some flavour and aroma.
Conversely, drinking it at room temperature will ensure the fruit essence comes through well even though the alcohol might go to your head sooner.
In either case, it is recommended to serve bacon or other fatty meats as well as good quality bread with slivovice to counter the alcohol.
Above all, remember that slivovice is a strong drink and one or two shots is the most you should try if you’ve never had it before. Definitely don’t try to keep up with the locals!
The slivovice.org website will give you a good overview of the slivovice distilling process from start to finish.
Commercially produced slivovice is generally looked down upon. However, Jelínek is considered classic and is easy to find. Žufánek produces a quite respectable version too if you can’t access home brew.