We Are All Reclining
1 1/4 Slivovitz [Jelinek]
3/4 oz ginger liquer [Barrow’s Intense]
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Cherry Brandy [ Cherry Heering]
1/4 oz Besamim
Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
Recently my friend @schmaltzychef introduced me to the world of Slivovitz. These plum brandies are from Eastern Europe and have a ton of old world cache. They have been on my mind ever since trying one at his apartment, and with Passover right around the corner, I figured it’s the perfect time to pick up a bottle for my own bar.
As I mentioned, Slivovitz is actually a category of spirits – specifically the distilled juice of damson plums – which are prevalent in Central and Eastern Europe. Full disclosure, this booze is not for everyone. While the aroma is pleasantly plum-y, the sip is very much in your face. The fact that its bottled at 100 proof doesn’t hurt either. Some have (affectionately or otherwise) referred to it as paint thinner or jet fuel. The first sip may come off harsh, but you’ll be rewarded if you take the time to get to know it.
That being said, the old worldness of this stuff is very intriguing. I imagine that if I stumbled into some countryside home in Croatia, they would no doubt have a homemade bottle on the shelf. And much like other seemingly nigh undrinkable spirits (Fernet, looking in your direction), if you have an idea of what’s in store, you can begin to enjoy it.
And so my journey started at my friend’s apartment. It continued earlier this winter while at Mamaleh’s in Cambridge. This restaurant is like a Jewish deli on steriods – classic pastrami sandwiches and smoked fish along with elevated versions of knishes and girbenes appetizers. So naturally they had a Slivovitz flight on their drinks menu (you may have first tried it at your Bubbe’s house) and I jumped on it. After trying four versions, I began to appreciate this spirit even more. Some were very plum forward, others more floral, others still had a hint of sweetness. Sure, they all had some kick, but that’s not a bad thing. I preferred the ones where the plums really came through on the nose and the sip, and left there with a bottle of Jelinek silver in my sights.
When it came time to construct the drink, the first thing I wanted to do was keep it kosher. That meant no grain based spirits – so long bourbons, gins, and most liqueurs. I decided to build on the fruit brandy thing and bring in some Cherry Heering. Sukkah Hill Spirts Besamim was a no brainer, not only for its kosher status but the cinammon and cloves would compliment the plum notes nicely. However, I didn’t want to clobber the strength of the Sliv with sweetness. A spicy kick from Barrow’s Intense ginger liqueur (distilled from cane sugar = kosher!) and citrus from lemon juice provided the perfect assertive counterpoint.
This drink is still a sipper, with plum and citrus aromas on the nose. On the sip the warm spices from the Besamim wrapped the Sliv plum notes in a cozy hug. The aforementioned ginger kick snapped everything back to attention, before more plums and citrus brought up the rear on the swallow.
The name comes from the last part of the Four Questions. After the last “why is this night different from all other nights”, the response is basically “because tonight, while we eat, we are all reclining”. Back in the day, reclining while eating was a sign of royalty or nobility. The Jews weren’t afforded that luxury until they escaped Egypt, and honor that fact during the Seder.
So next time someone offers you taste of the Sliv life, don’t be afraid. Take a deep breath, enjoy the plum aromas, and then dive in. You might be pleasantly surprised.