ROZANCI, Serbia (AP) – Forget whiskey or brandy. For the Serbs, nothing beats home-made sljivovica, a plum brand they hope will soon receive UN recognition as an example of an important cultural tradition.
Sljivovica (pronounced SHLI’-vuh-vitsah) has been handmade – and worn – in Serbia for centuries, a custom passed down from generation to generation that experts say has become part of the national identity.
The tradition is still widespread in the rural areas of the Balkans despite the boom in distilleries and modern brands. The UN’s cultural agency, UNESCO, is expected to decide this month whether “social practices and knowledge related to the preparation and use” of the spirit should be included in its list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.
Sociologist Ilija Malovic says that sljivovica is a typically Serbian product because it is derived from locally grown fruit – plums – which are widely available, and because the brand is made and enjoyed within local families and communities. .
Serbians drink sljivovica when celebrating, mourning, welcoming guests and celebrating important events, Malovic explained. People gave away their best bottles for weddings, births and funerals, he said.
“He (sljivovica) was always closely connected to the family,” said Malovic, who is the editor of a blog about local fruit-based spirits called rakija.
“Sljivovica has been a part of people’s lives from beginning to end, and it has always been part of the identity of this nation,” he said.
These days, sljivovica is an important Serbian export and a local tourist attraction. Small businesses producing sljivovica and other fruit brands have grown in recent years, offering modern packaging with ethnic-style designs.
For improved quality, sljivovica is sometimes kept in oak barrels which give it a brown, whiskey color and a slightly bitter taste. And, it gets better with age.
In the central Serbian village of Rozanci, Miroslav Milosevic makes his own sljivovica, using plums from the family orchard and a technique used by his father and grandfather before him.
A peek inside Milosevic’s backyard shed reveals a distillery that includes metal barrels, wood stoves and white cotton cloths through which the final product is filtered.
Milosevic says he makes a pure, high-quality spirit for himself and the friends and relatives he gives a few bottles to.
“Our elders used to say it’s like medicine,” he said. “You drink one small glass and it’s medicine.”