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I’m used to drinking vodka, even the home-made stuff, and I’ve drunk my fair share of Jenever, the gin from Netherlands and Belgium. But nothing prepared me for the burning sensation in my throat from the first tasting of slivovica, the Serbian grape brandy, during a meal in the Old Town of Kotor. I temporarily lost my voice, and nodded and smiled at the waiter, even though I had half suspected I’d been poisoned. What the hell was this stuff?
Peek into a bar in the Stari Grad and you’ll see the old guys sipping a clear or golden-coloured spirit in a small shot glass. Order a zakuska (mixed starter plate) in a restaurant and you’ll be offered slivovica, which is what the locals match with their appetisers, not wine. It reminded me of Sunday lunch at Lara’s Russian grandparents, where Lara’s uncle once set fire to his father’s home-made vodka to prove a point about how potent it was…
In the supermarket liquor section in Kotor, you’ll see more varieties of liquors from the rakija family – slivovica (clear grape brandy), gorki liker (golden or caramel-coloured and more medicinal tasting) and domaci rum (local ‘rum’) – than you will wine or beer. Tiny bottles of the stuff cost around one euro each. A bargain. Plus, you wouldn’t want to drink more than that. Naturally, a tasting was in order…
Brka Slivovica, Rakija Od Sljiva
Lara: You can smell the fruit straight away, loads of plums, and then you swiftly taste the plum again and it’s lovely for a second… right before the burning sensation! Once that dies down, there’s a perfume-like fragrance left in your mouth… I like it. And I like the little old man on the label.
Terence: Yes, you can definitely smell the plum, but then the potency goes up your nose and in the back of your mouth and you really notice the warming alcohol burn… it takes your breathe away.
Rubin Prepecenica, Rakija Od Voca
Lara: I smell caramel on the nose initially, then there’s the taste of plums also, but there’s a richer, warmer feel – or maybe that’s the colour influencing perception rather than my taste buds. While there is still a burning sensation it’s not as numbing…
Terence: True. This one has a bit more sugar and a little bit more fruit…it’s probably a little more approachable than the first one for those burning their throats for the first time!
Takovo Prepecenica, Rakija Od Voca
Lara: This one is even sweeter and more plummy on the nose, and sweeter on first taste, but then there’s quite a bit of alcohol, although not as much as the others… then nothing… odd.
Terence: It definitely doesn’t have much length, but it does have more fruit on the palate. I think I’m liking the fire-breathing ones better.
Takovo Pelinkovac, Gorki Liker
Lara: It’s much darker in colour, almost like medicine on the nose. I think they actually say that this kind of liquor has medicinal qualities! It’s very herbaceous, and has a slight alcohol zing, but not as heady as the others.
Terence: It’s very medicinal and has a bitter after-taste. Frankly, it tastes like bad medicine. Bad medicine is not what I need.
Maraska Pelinkovac, Gorki Biljni Liker
Lara: I just love the cute blue label on this one! This is a similar colour to the last one – maybe it has more of a ruby tinge to it. This one is even more aromatic, more medicinal, and has a strong alcoholic after-taste… once the alcohol dies down, it feels as if you’ve drunk cough medicine.
Terence: Oh god, that’s just as awful as the last one…
Maraska Domaci Rum, Jako Alkoholno Pice
Lara: This label is very Havana-retro. Much prefer this on the nose – lots of butterscotch there, but this is another potent drop, loads of alcohol on the tongue, although once that subsides there’s that medicinal ‘quality’ again… I think I’d rather drink cough medicine…
Terence: It smells sweeter… is that the rum?… you can taste a cane-sugar-ness to it, it’s as if it’s meant to be rum but is not really… I feel like I’m drinking poison! There is a reason that the label says ‘strong liquor’. That is potent stuff.