What is Slivovitz?

M.C. Huguelet

Slivovitz is one of several different names for a plum brandy popular in many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It is made by distilling damson plums and then fermenting and aging the resulting juices. Commercial slivovitz is made by liquor producers in Eastern and Central Europe as well as in countries where large populations of people from these regions have settled, such as the United States. It is also often made in the home.

Damson plums are pressed in a vise to make slivovitz.
Damson plums are pressed in a vise to make slivovitz.

There are many accepted variations of the name slivovitz. For instance, in Poland the product is known as śliwowica, while in Serbia and Croatia it is called шљивовица/šljìvovica. As the Slavic languages spoken in most of the countries where it is most popular have many similarities, however, these variations are built from common roots: slíva, which means damson plum, and vice, which is a suffix used to indicate that a liquid is a distilled liqueur.

Generally, slivovitz ranges in color from clear to light brown.
Generally, slivovitz ranges in color from clear to light brown.

While no one knows exactly where slivovitz was first made, it is believed to have originated in the Balkans, in Hungary, or in the region formerly known as Czechoslovakia. Many countries have their own traditions surrounding slivovitz consumption. In some places it is served chilled, while in others it is taken at room temperature. It is considered by many to be a good digestif, or a post-meal drink which aids the digestion.

Slivovitz is popular in many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Slivovitz is popular in many of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

The first step in making slivovitz is pressing damson plums along with their kernels. Next, this pressed juice is distilled. It may then be mixed with starches or sugars. This mixture is then fermented and finally left to age, a process which allows its flavors to develop.

Generally, slivovitz ranges in color from clear to light brown. The drink’s color is derived from the container in which it was aged. A brown color usually indicates that the liqueur was aged in a wooden cask, while a clear color suggests that it was housed in glass or steel. The producer’s choice of aging vessel can also affect the drink’s taste, with wood sometimes imparting a smoky flavor. Overall, the liquor’s taste usually reflects its quality, and better products tend to have a subtle almond flavor, while low-quality products taste strongly of alcohol.

There are many slivovitz producers throughout the European countries in which it is most popular. In addition, it is made in several non-European countries with large Eastern and Central European communities, such as Canada and the United States. Some enthusiasts even make the liqueur in their own homes.

Slivovitz is a distilled, fermented and aged beverage made from damson plums.
Slivovitz is a distilled, fermented and aged beverage made from damson plums.

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Discussion Comments

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In Slovakia it is known as slivovica, and is more of a pre-meal drink, or a way to celebrate the beginning of a dinner party or other event. It may also be brought out after a meal, though that is less formal than the beginning of the meal.

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