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Balkan Bonanza – Part 2: Živeli!

Ivica and I enjoyed our conversation about Montenegro and the upgrades to Café Adriatic’s terrace, and he gestured to Tanja. “Pour him a glass of slivovitz… Yes, go ahead.” Tanja suggested the Markovic Estates slivovitz, which she said was the most popular. I contemplated my first shot of the evening.

In my family, slivovitz, a plum brandy, was usually referred to in a joke, as a sort of archetypal bad liquor. It’s a shame, because slivovitz is actually quite pleasant, if quite strong. I sipped the brandy, expecting some significant burn from the 45% alcohol content. It felt surprisingly smooth, however, and went down with ease. I sipped again, enjoying the lightly plummy flavor and aroma of almonds.

Suddenly, dessert didn’t seem like such a bad idea. Especially when one of the choices is crepes with “Eurocream and Plasma.” It sounded like the unfortunate result of some sort of Balkan blood-bank orgy. I had to have it.

Eurocream, I learned, is akin to Nutella, and Plasma are vanilla cookies (finely crumbled, in this case). The slivovitz paired wonderfully with these rich crepes, clearing the palate in between bites.

I would not recommend pairing these crepes, or any other heavy dessert, with my next shot. I had been telling Ivica about my travels in Slovenia and Croatia, and how I had enjoyed sampling the various local liqueurs. I distinctly remembered enjoying kruškovac, a pear-based digestif. I related how the bottle I brought home did not live up to my memories, however, tasting more like Circus Peanuts than anything else.

Ivica, perhaps wanting to make up for my bum bottle, offered me a shot (or, more accurately, insisted that Tanja pour me a shot – my opinion seemed immaterial) of Maraska kruškovac from Zadar, Croatia. Not feeling particularly encouraged by the label’s declaration that the kruškovac contained artificial dyes, I took an apprehensive sip. The banana-candy flavor reared its head up front, but overripe pear flavors quickly overcame it, followed by a bit of alcoholic bite. This liqueur is too syrupy-sweet to pair with most desserts, and is best drunk on its own, if at all.

I’m not quite sure what precipitated my third and final shot, a Montmorency cherry liqueur from Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Živeli!” I exclaimed, using the Montenegran and Serbian word for “Cheers!” (I learned the proper toast with my previous shot – it makes drinking seem more educational). 

Founded quite recently in 2004, the Barbarić family distillery made quite a lovely drink from the sour Montmorency cherries – it tasted like a luscious and slightly alcoholic cherry pie. I didn’t get a chance to pair this digestif with any food, but I imagine it would work quite well with chocolate.

When the bill came, I was shocked to find two of the three shots — shots that Ivica insisted I try — on my tab! They weren’t all that expensive, but it seemed a bit inhospitable, especially since I hadn’t ordered a single one of them. 

So be careful if Ivica and Tanja start buying you drinks at Café Adriatic. You may end up finding more than just a slight hangover on your bill for the evening.

SUMMARY:

Markovic Estates Slivovitz — Strong but smooth; a good pairing with rich desserts. Grade: B+

Maraska Kruškovac — A Croatian pear liqueur, with slightly unpleasant banana overtones and artificial coloring. Grade: C-

Barbarić Montmorency Cherry Liqueur — Like liquid cherry pie. Delightful. Grade: A-

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