The Jew And The Carrot

Slivovitz Neat and Cocktailed

By Ezra Glinter

  • Print
  • Share Share
Nate Lavey

While reporting “If the Slivovitz Hasn’t Killed You Yet, Have Another Shot,” for the Forward’s food and drink section, I talked to a lot of serious slivophiles. Some of them discovered the super-potent plum brandy later in life, but for many the appeal went back to childhood, growing up in families who drank slivovitz in an almost ceremonial fashion.

My experience doesn’t date back that far, but slivovitz and I have crossed paths on a few occasions. My first encounter with the liquor was as a teenager, when my grandmother gave our family a bottle for Passover. I don’t recall the brand, but it was one of the squat green bottles that used to dominate the slivovitz market in North America, and which were usually imported from the former Yugoslavia. Slivovitz reentered my life more recently at The Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, an annual Balkan music event in Brooklyn, where it is celebrated as a regional specialty. But after talking to a good many slivovitz aficionados, it became apparent that my knowledge was seriously lacking. For the sake of journalistic inquiry, further research was required.

(Cocktail video below)

To improve my knowledge (if not my liver), I went looking for some quality slivovitz — or as high quality as I could find without shipping it from overseas, or making it myself. (All slivovitz connoisseurs will tell you that the homemade versions produced in Eastern Europe are far better than anything you can buy in a store.) After visiting some of New York City’s best-stocked liquor shops, I managed to pick up three bottles. The first was the R. Jelinek 10 year, a dark Czech slivovitz from one of the oldest and best known slivovitz distilleries — the Johnny Walker Black of slivovitz, if you will; the second was Navip, an oak-aged, straw-colored, 8-year product from Serbia; and the third was a small bottle of clear, kosher for Passover slivovitz from the Clear Creek Distillery in Portland, Ore. I also found a bottle of the Croatian Maraska, which I did not buy, apparently for the best. As one Master Slivovitz Judge, Jerry Kortesmaki, put it to me: “If there’s someone you don’t like, and you don’t want them to drink your slivovitz, you can keep a bottle of the Maraska around to give them.”

Slivovitz is traditionally served neat, or perhaps chilled. But could it be used in a cocktail? In my interviews I asked the question hesitantly, sensing a possible blasphemy. You wouldn’t mix a fine single malt scotch, after all. Still, there were a few suggestions. Pete Radosevich, who helped found the U.S. Slivovitz Festival in Minnesota, had heard of mixing it with orange juice and grenadine (a cocktail billed in a 2003 Forward article as the “Warsaw Sunrise”), while Kortesmaki said that the Navip went well in a Bloody Mary. Zach Kutsher, of Kutsher’s Tribeca, told me they are planning on serving a slivovitz-based drink on Passover using lemon, honey syrup and seltzer.

To try out the possibilities myself I enlisted the help of Andy Heidel, the owner of a bar near my apartment called The Way Station. After a few days of experimentation, Heidel was ready to unveil his creations. So, on a glorious March afternoon that felt very much like an early Passover, I headed down to The Way Station with a few brave friends to sample the results.

Heidel’s first cocktail, which he dubbed the “Christopher Plummer,” was a slivovitz- based take on the rusty nail made with equal parts slivovitz, Dewar’s scotch and triple sec. Although on the sweet side, it was more drinkable than its alcohol content would suggest. In the course of the afternoon Heidel also created the “Brownsville,” a slivovitz version of a Manhattan made with slivovitz, Dewar’s, a half-ounce of sweet vermouth and three dashes of orange bitters. Thanks to the vermouth and the bitters this mixture tasted less like it might lead to early-onset diabetes. We also tried a surprisingly refreshing combination of slivovitz and Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray soda, a drink one blogger has dubbed the “Serbian Suicide.”

We also sampled each type of slivovitz neat, though not according to the full procedures of an official slivovitz competition. To my palate the Jelinek tasted most like the slivovitz I remembered from home, while the Navip had a stronger, fruitier flavor. My favorite was the Clear Creek, which seemed the most drinkable and, without the smoky or woody flavors of an oak barrel, the most crisp.

I probably find slivovitz more palatable than most people, though I can’t say I attained the enthusiasm of the experts I talked to. But it was more than slivovitz itself that made their fervor exciting. There’s something wonderful about people who are passionate about a very particular thing. There’s a fearlessness to it — the willingness to abandon the mainstream and pursue a specific, individual taste. Anyone can go home at night and watch “30 Rock.” Not everyone gets NASA scientists to join in their strange liquor festival. It’s people like that who make the world a more interesting place — especially once you’ve had a couple shots of slivovitz.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: video, multimedia, Passover, Slivovitz

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.