UN award sought for prized Serbian plum brandy

ROZANCI, Serbia (AP) — Forget whiskey or cognac. For Serbs, nothing beats homemade sljivovica, a plum brandy that they hope will soon be recognized by the UN as an example of an important cultural tradition.

Sljivovica (pronounced SHLI’-vuh-vitsah) has been made – and consumed – by hand in Serbia for centuries, a custom passed down from generation to generation that experts say has become part of national identity.

The tradition remains widespread in rural areas of the Balkan country, despite an explosion of modern distilleries and brands. Unesco, the UN’s cultural institution, is expected to decide this month whether it will include “social practices and knowledge related to the preparation and use” of the spirit in its list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.

Sociologist Ilija Malovic says sljivovica is a quintessentially Serbian product because it is derived from a locally grown fruit – plums – which is widely available, and because the brandy is made and enjoyed within families and local communities.

Serbs drink sljivovica when celebrating, mourning, welcoming guests and marking important events, Malovic explained. People have always put away their best bottles for weddings, child births and funerals, he said.

“It (sljivovica) has always been closely associated with family,” Malovic, who edits a blog about local fruit-based spirits known as rakija.

“Sljivovica has been part of people’s lives from beginning to end and has always been part of the identity of this nation,” he said.

Today, sljivovica is also an important Serbian export and a local tourist attraction. Small businesses producing sljivovica and other fruit brandies have sprung up in recent years and offer modern packaging with ethnic style designs.

For better quality, sljivovica is sometimes kept in oak barrels that give it a brownish, whiskey-like 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 his father and grandfather used before him.

A peek into Milosevic’s backyard shed reveals a distillery with metal barrels, wood stoves, and white cotton clothing through which the final product is filtered.

Milosevic says he makes a pure, high-quality drink for himself and the friends and relatives to whom he gives a few bottles.

“Our seniors used to say it’s like medicine,” he smiled. “You drink a small glass and it’s a remedy.”

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