Slivovice – Plum Brandy

Food and Drink – Slivovice – Plum Brandy

Slivovice sounds like “sliv-voh-vit-ser” and you will find it in every bar in the city. Pretty much anybody who has visited Prague will have at least tried it and for those of us that live here it’s an unavoidable fact of life that during celebrations we have to drink it. So let’s look at the history and give you some tips for trying it.

graphic on the front of a bottle of R. Jelinek slivovice or plum brandy
Slivovice or Plum Brandy

What is Slivovice?

Slivovice is plum brandy (outside of Czechia bottles may say Slivovitz and you may also know it as a version of Schnapps) and to be fair, in Czechia it can be known as Moravian Slivovice due to the myriad places in this region that historically produced fruit distillates from the 15th Century. So, Slivovice is a distillate i.e. it is produced by the fermentation of plums into a clear alcoholic liquid in a process that takes between 6 and 8 weeks depending on local factors. Cooked twice during the process (88 degrees Celsius is the optimum temperature) it is the alcoholic vapours which are collected for the drink. This is a process which can be done in your own home (and often is!) but it will have a dangerously high alcohol content in excess of 80%. In a commercial environment they will cut it with water and bring down the alcohol strength to something around 40-45%. You can’t go much lower with fruit distillates because they will become acidic. Even then the bottled product should not be sealed for another 4 to 6 weeks.

Clear or Golden?

Bottles of Golden Slivovice and Regular Slivovice on a shelf
Golden Slivovice and Regular Slivovice – Same strength but the golden will be more expensive

When fermented, Slivovice is always clear. You can make it have a golden appearance in several ways including the exposure to dried plums, a dye or adding caramelized sugar. In general the golden version is more expensive as it is often aged.

The R. Jelinek Slivovice Museum Tour in Prague

How Do You Drink Slivovice?

I’m tempted to say “very quickly” but some hardy souls like to sip it. It’s generally served as a shot hence why it’s popular at celebrations of birthdays and namesdays. You certainly don’t mix it with anything.

Tips on Finding Good Slivovice

Go with a well known brand like Jelínek or if that’s too expensive there are a couple of things to look for. Firstly, just put a bit between your finger and thumb. If you rub it then you should feel a resistance almost like rubbing a thin slither of jelly. Secondly, watch somebody else drink a shot and then look at their empty glass. Actually it should not be empty. When the glass is put down you should see some little vertical lines (bubbles) which is condensing alcohol that normally appears with quality Slivovice. The most expensive Slivovice is aged i.e. 20 years is not uncommon in which case it can taste like cognac.

The Jelínek Story

advert for r. jelinek products including slivovice at prague airport
An advert for R. Jelinek products including Slivovice

Following a tradition of more than 400 years of “Burning Slivovice”, two sons called Rudolf and Vladimir Jelínek took over the Vizovice family distillery business in 1919 but the Rudolf (R. Jelínek) brand originally produced in an area of Vizovice called Razov, South Moravia, is what you see today. Rudolf Jelínek was able to travel to the USA in April 1939 but as he could not bring his family out of what was then called the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia he returned in October 1939. The following year he was forced to sell his business, sent to Terezín in 1943 and in 1944 the family was transferred to Auschwitz where Rudolf and his wife died. Their two sons survived the war but one died of tuberculosis in 1946 and the other emigrated after the business was nationalised by the communists in 1948. The Rudolf Jelínek brand that you see today was established in 1994. On their bottles you’ll find the word Vizovice which is the location of the original distillery still being used today and the date 1894 when the original company was founded by Rudolf’s father, Zikmund.

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