On an AMA Waterways River Cruise from Budapest to Bucharest, I find myself in Belgrade, Serbia, learning about plum brandy at the Quburich distillery. As we drive the bus to the quaint neighborhood location of a family-owned plum brandy tasting room, we pass by lawns covered in Syrians camping out while awaiting a bus to illegally cross from Hungary to France, Switzerland or Sweden. It is heartbreaking, and we are told that 5,000 people from Syria come to Belgrade daily.
The neighborhood’s pyramid-shaped roofs were fashioned from the Nazi bunkers of WWII in order to allow the bombs to slide off.
Yes, this is a destination of disarray, but there is much beauty among the ruins, such as the Avala Mountain to the south, and the rolling hills and fruit growing region of along the Balkan peninsula. The fruits include raspberries, blueberries, pears and apricots for exportation. The most popular fruit is the plum, which is the key ingredient to a brandy. Second only to this plum brandy is apricot brandy schnapps.
Before I sip on a series of brandy’s, some 30 years old, I enjoy a glass of elderberry juice.
#1 – We begin with a brandy-soaked cherry, which tastes refreshing as we begin our tasting education. We learn that fermentation begins with a 12% distillation. The secret is in the fire and wood is chopped and added to the fire every 7-11 minutes to keep the temperatures high.
The final product is bottled in hand-blown glass referred to as Chockanchi, so each is unique. The shape of the glass is said to enable you to drink from the bottle while rocking out on the dance floor. The amber color of the plum brandy is colored only by the fruit.
Geevoleel! (long live!) We toast and sip.
That first sip burns all the way down, but is easier with the following sip. We nosh on sausage, hams and cheeses, cheese pie… in what is referred to as a Greek mezza (a mess), with Turkish caviar of vegetables.