Thursday, February 7, 2019

R. Jelinek Slivovitz (5-year old)

Rudolf Jelinek's plum brandy (aged 5 years) is one of the best plum brandys I've had the pleasure to taste, after what I consider to be the standard for this type of drink - the home-made pálinka from Transylvania (e.g. around Cluj, Satu-Mare etc.)

But what is a "plum brandy"? It is the basic variety of the fruit brandys known under various names in Central and Eastern Europe - as pálinka / palincă in the areas with Hungarian cultural influence, as țuică in some of the Romanian regions, as slivovitz (in various spellings) among the Southern Slavs (countries of former Yugoslavia), and, seemingly, among the Northern Slavs as well (Jelinek is made in Czechia).

Its closest relatives are the various wassers produced within the German cultural sphere (Kirschwasser, Zwetchgenwasser, and so on), and the French eau de vie. Also related - in terms of its taste world - are the Italian grappa, or the South American pisco, although those are made from grapes, while the brandy from Central-Eastern Europe is made from fruits: the traditional plum, but also pear, apricot, cherry etc.

Palinka (let's just use this as a generic name for these fruit brandys) is a clear, transparent drink made from fermented fruit, while the resulting liquid being double distilled. The best palinka is about 70-80 % alcohol (140-160 proof), and tastes and smells like a pure essence of fruit.

the plum variety ("Damson") from which brandy is made
And that is what sets this drink apart from what I would consider to be brutish drinks like vodka or avkavit. The best (or real) palinka is actually a fairly subtle drink, that can be enjoyed both from an olfactive and from a gustatory point of view. Its purpose is not to "get you drunk fast"; it is to be savored for its taste, and not swallowed in quick "shots" for the purpose of abrupt inebriation. At its best, it truly tastes like essence of sublimated plum - it is quite a delight! The best palinka should not be heavy, but should taste rather on the light side; it should not be weak, but should exhibit decisive strength, a punch of true essence. Palinka is best had as an aperitif or a digestive, but it can be had during meals as well - and anytime, with measure, with friends.

This is why I consider Jelinek's 5-year old plum slivovitz to be the closest to the gold standard of the drink. In both smell and taste it gets quite close to the best of them. Its aroma is clear and light plum, very pleasant, with a touch of sweetness, and perhaps just some harshness toward the end. The taste nuances are similar - mostly with sweet notes, a round taste, easily drinkable; but, again, with some harshness or heaviness after ingestion. It is this small after-touch of harshness, or roughness, that makes me rank this Jelinek slivovitz only second to the best of them. Overall, however, it is very pleasant, friendly and easy to drink, and, although with "only" 50% alcohol, it has all the strength and punch needed by the best palinka. Ah! and let us not forget, this Jelinek slivovitz is triple distilled!

Overall, highly recommended.