My first afternoon in Vodice, Croatia, while dining at a seaside restaurant, I began a conversation with the owner and chef, Luka. I wanted to learn the story behind a creative menu that encompassed all of the traditional regional dishes from across Croatia. Before we could begin, Luka poured each of us a small glass of his homemade Slivovitz, plum brandy. This was going to take some time.
As I took my first sip, Luka carefully watched my reaction to a spirit I had yet to experience. I am sure it was great entertainment as I gasped for air. The only part of that initial sip I can say I am proud of was my ability to swallow it.
I am a bourbon drinker through and through. I have sampled some fairly harsh and hot bourbon in my time. Some I have returned to and some I have moved on to never sip again. None of that prepared me for the experience of Slivovitz.
It sits in the glass delicately and was decidedly sweet, all of which did not prepare me for the harshness and burn. For me, there was no redeeming quality here.
Through Luka’s quiet laughter, he told me, “You will do better next time. Slivovitz is an acquired taste.” There was going to be a next time? I managed to finish my small pour that day only because I was attempting to be a gracious guest.
The next afternoon, Luka again poured us each a glass of Slivovitz; mine was much smaller this time. Unfortunately, my reaction was similar to the previous day. I simply was not going to be a Slivovitz drinker.
Luckily, Luka understood and offered a solution. Apparently, I was not the only guest who had this reaction to his Slivovitz. He took my remaining Slivovitz and created a cocktail that I began to call Luka’s Afternoon Special. Each afternoon Luka would recreate the drink for me to sip while he enjoyed his glass of Slivovitz. Consisting of orange juice, a liqueur, simple syrup and Slivovitz, it truly was the perfect cocktail for an afternoon by the water.
Since then, I have tried various aged Slivovitz plus a few homemade. This simply is not a spirit I enjoy – to any degree. However, I have learned it does provide a great base for flavorful cocktails. The harshness is overcome by the addition of other ingredients such as fruit juices and simple syrup to allow the sweet plum flavor to shine through.
Definitely use aged Slivovitz, such as Jelinek Gold Slivovitz 10 Year, for any Slivovitz cocktail. The age does decrease some of the harshness and increases the sweetness.
Luka used a maraschino liqueur. Here it is replaced with a softer elderflower liqueur such as St Germain Elderflower Liqueur to provide balance without a masking the sweet plum flavor of the Slivovitz.
A few dashes of lemon bitters adds a citrusy freshness to complete the cocktail.
Serve the cocktail Luka’s way – garnish free. In Luka’s world, plums were too soft or juicy to use and orange slices simple did not reflect the Slivovitz base.
1 ounce aged Slivovitz such as St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
½ ounce elderflower liqueur such as St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
½ ounce simple syrup
two dashes lemon bitters such as Fee Brothers Lemon Bitters
Place martini glass in freezer to chill for 5 minutes. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all ingredients. Shake until chilled about 30 seconds. Strain into martini glass. Serve.