Slivovitz is a general name for a traditional fruit brandy, or rakia, that derives from the Slavic word "slivka", or "plum." Slivovitz is also known as slivovka, slovovica, slivovitsa or tuica, depending on language. It is widely made at home in Eastern and Central Europe and is the national drink of the Balkans. Although other fruits are occasionally used, the finest slivovitz is made with the completely ripe plums harvested in autumn. Consumed as an aperitif, its alcohol content often exceeds 51 per cent (102 proof). Production of distilled liquor by private individuals is illegal in the United States.
Harvest only ripe to overripe plums. For genuine slivovitz, use prune or sugar plums (p. domestica, also known as slivky in Slovak). When they are full and ripe, shake the tree until the ripe plums fall on the ground. Remove any stems and wash the sugar plums, then put them in a watertight barrel to ferment. Add dextrose or sucrose and water to plums that are not overripe. Mash plums gently to remove air from the "mash." Some traditions leave the pits in the plums and some remove them.
Allow the plums to ferment for six to eight weeks, depending on how ripe they were to start. Agitate the mash gently on a daily basis for the first few weeks to allow the air to escape from it. After six weeks, check the mash periodically with an oeschlemeter to determine whether fermentation is complete. When the mash has finished, the sugar content should read about 3 per cent on an optimeter (or optical saccharimeter).
Stop the fermentation by raising the pH of the mash. As fruit ferments, it becomes more acidic---use a "neutraliser" like calcium carbonate (used in antacids) or calcium hydroxide to correct the pH to between 3.9 and 4.1. Traditional slivovitz makers often achieve all of this without instruments or chemicals, because they can tell when the mash is ready to be distilled by taste.
Let the mash rest for a few days in a cool place to complete the neutralisation of the fermentation process. This is as far as Americans can go unless they have a retail distiller in the neighbourhood---fermentation for personal use is legal in the United States but distilling is not. Europe, however, is dotted with distilling services that will take slivovitz mash and distil it for customers.
Find a professional distiller who can do your distillation or teach you how to proceed. The distiller will place the mash in a sealed metal kettle with an evaporation spout that leads to a second receptacle and gently heat it until the alcohol evaporates from the mash and rises into the evaporating tube. The liquor then condenses along the walls and slides down the tube into the collecting kettle. A second distillation will produce a clear liquid with a proof of close to 100. Distilled water can be added to reduce proof. Store the slivovitz in partially filled glass jugs for about a week, opening the jug a few times a day to allow air to escape. After the liquor is vented for a week, seal it in bottles or hardwood barrels to age---slivovitz aged in barrels develops a golden colour.
Experienced slivovitz distillers know to distil slowly by not too slowly--too much time ruins the plum flavour and renders pure ethyl alcohol, known as"moonshine," that can be toxic. Homemade slivovitz makers advise ageing the distilled product at least two months before consuming.
Although fermenting wine and beer for personal use are legal in the United States, production of distilled liquor by private individuals is illegal.