A dedication to my ex-step-father-in-law
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This week I embarked on a quest to create something out of my favorite alcohol to drink straight up: Slivovitz. Actually, my favorite is Pálinka, which is the Hungarian version, but it’s nearly impossible to find in the US, so I usually have to settle for Slivovitz. Basically it’s a clear plum brandy, but Pálinka can also be made with apricots, apples, pears or my favorite cherry, which is similar to kirschwasser but with no added water or flavoring. I was turned on to Pálinka several years ago by “Papa”, my wife’s mother’s ex-boyfriend who is Hungarian and a man who never denies himself the finer things in life. According to Papa, the main difference between Slivovitz and Pálinka is that water, sugar and yeast are added to Slivovitz during the fermentation process, while Pálinka is made purely from the fruit itself with no added ingredients and is distilled at least 6 times. He used to force me to take a shot of the plum Pálinka when we would visit, and I grew to love the flavor and strength, although it’s usually only 80 proof. One time, after visiting Hungary, he came back with some of the cherry stuff and some higher proof home-made plum Pálinka which was simply out of this world. Some call it rocket fuel, but it’s actually got a subtle and delicate fruitiness that’s not too sweet. I love this stuff and a few years ago I actually went to the trouble of buying a case of the cherry stuff from an online distributor, but I can’t seem to find it anymore, so now I have to settle for the plum Slivovitz to get my Papa fix and I almost always have a bottle on hand.
Slivovitz is pretty much always served straight up as a shot or sipped as a cold apéritif, so there are very few cocktails that call for it. I searched and searched, and found a few esoteric ones out there, but they all seemed to focus on fruity/sweet flavors or feature a juice rather than the Slivovitz itself, which seemed like an afterthought rather than the main ingredient. The Yellow Plum and Slivopolitan are prime examples of this, and although the former seems like a waste of time, the latter might be worth exploring in the future. In any case, I decided it was my duty to honor Papa with his own cocktail, although I haven’t seen him in years and probably never will again, but that’s another story. Let’s just say that I prefer to focus on the positive and preserve my fond memories of him through our favorite shared alcoholic beverage.
So I had actually created a fairly daunting task for myself – how to create a cocktail that features a strong fruit-based liquor without letting it be too sweet or fruity and preserve it’s delicate nature. I considered working with the usual suspects of Cointreau and St. Germain’s, and the floral idea seemed to make sense, but all those flavors seemed too powerful and sweet. The answer was right in front of me as I stared at my newly acquired bottle of Drillaud’s Rose liqueur, just in time for spring. I’ve been experimenting a lot with it lately, and makes a great vodka and tonic as well as a fabulous vodka martini, but how would it work as a supporting flavor? I did the usual pairing with lemon at various doses but it didn’t quite bring out the kick of the Slivovitz and was either too strong or it got lost with the lemon. Then it occurred to me to add just a touch of bitters, and Campari made perfect sense, not just for flavor but color as well. Add the garnish and it all comes together quite nicely if I do say so myself! Give it a try, and don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of uses for the rose liqueur this spring and summer, and a cold shot of Slivovitz on a summer afternoon will hit the spot too!
2 oz. Slivovitz
½ oz. Drillaud’s Rose liqueur
½ oz. fresh squeezed lemon
¼ oz. Campari
Stir with ice and pour into apéritif glass, garnish with lemon peel styled as a rose.