Slivovitz is a popular nip in Central and Eastern Europe--stop by a bar in Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary or Serbia and you're sure to find a small shot of the potent plum brandy sitting before you. Made from fermented blue plums that are distilled into a high-proof eau de vie, or fruit brandy, slivovitz is not for the faint of heart. At least that's what I thought until I got my hands on some silky smooth slivovitz made stateside.
Bistra Slivovitz, 750 milliliters, $25.70
Since the plum is the national fruit of Serbia, it follows that sljivovica is the national drink. But if this tipple is at all representative of Serbian slivovitz, then that's a terrible tragedy. As one taster exclaimed after the harsh ammonia notes of old cheese rinds subsided: "It's like someone just poured a clump of dirt in my mouth." Or as another eloquently put it: "It's like going past the slip-and-slide and hitting asphalt."
Clear Creek Distillery Blue Plum Brandy, 750 milliliters, $42.95
In addition to producing grappa and calvados, Portland, Ore.'s popular distillery also crafts a lovely, pot-distilled slivovitz made from Italian blue plums. With a clean, lightly floral nose, this sophisticated eau de vie is worlds apart from its Serbian cousin. Though it's got a bit of heat on the palate, this brandy mellows out nicely with a couple of ice cubes and its fruity bouquet opens up.
Koenig Distillery Plum Brandy, 375 milliliters, $19.35
With an astoundingly floral nose and hints of juicy, over-ripe plums on the palate, this brandy was by far the tasting panel's favorite. Distilled slowly in copper pot stills and then aged in clear glass carboys for a minimum of two years, Koenig's eau de vie is the epitome of elegant, with a silky, almost buttery finish. As one taster exclaimed, "I could drink the whole bottle out of a pint glass," then added, "I guess that's why they call it 'the water of life.'"