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Nov 9, 2009 10:36 PM

Croatian honey liqueur?

A couple months ago, my mother and I traveled to visit extended family just outside of Rijeka, in northern Croatia. Our family members gave us a "medicinal honey liqueur" -- or possibly a brandy, some things were lost in translation--that was made in the small town we visited.

There are no markings on the bottle, and all we could tell upon opening it was that it had a strong herbal smell, but also a little sweet.

Is anyone familiar with this liqueur--I wanted to find out more about it before we actually tried it.

Hvala! (Thank you!)

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  1. You could have a very special bottle there!

    Eastern Europe has a number of honey liqueurs, and they are defined by their spirit base, into three groups

    The first group, and the most common, is based on grain spirits (vodka) that has honey added later. Popular examples are Krupnik (Poland) and Barenfang (Germany.) Krupnik can be plain or flavored with herbs. Barenfang is usually plain. Common US brands you would find in stores are: "Old Krupnick" or "Barenjager"

    The second, more obscure group, is based on honey that is fermented and then distilled,(basically this is honey moonshine) This is Medovulkha, and is often flavored with herbs. No common US brands.

    There is also the Hungarian Pachinka, which is a fruit brandy (eaux-die-vie really) made from plums or pears, and then sometimes flavored with honey or herbs. But Eastern Europeans sometimes call anything spirit-based "brandy" so THAT is not and indication of anything.

    You may also have a bottle of (very rare - I've never had it) Nalefska or Nalewka, which is a "medicinal" liqueur of Krupnik infused with fruit and herbs. It is sometimes aged in wood. I have a Hungarian friend that told me about this, so it may also be a Croatian tradition.
    Here is something about it online...

    The color may also be an indication of what is inside. If it is clear and a light amber honey color, you may have Krupnik or Medovulka.
    If it is very dark and, you may have Nalewka.

    Was this commercially produced? Can you google anything on the label?

    Regardless of what you have in the bottle, drink it neat out of small cordial glasses, preferably with food and friends, as these are traditionally digestives. To me, Honey spirits are cold weather drinks to have with hearty foods. I have a half-Polish ancestry, and our family would have Krupnic after Easter dinner.

    If you do not like the taste of it, please do not use it for mixing, or pour it down the drain. Find a European friend that would appreciate it, or send it to me! You may have something really special.

    4 Replies
    1. re: jerryc123

      Wow, thank you so much for such a thorough reply! I'm currently out of town but will investigate when I'm back. I'm pretty sure it is part of the second, more "obscure" group that you were talking about. There really is no label--definitely not commercially sold, just a tag that was tied on with some twine.

      The closest thing on "Croatian liqueur" I could find via Google was something called Pelinkovac--a wormwood liqueur, but that didn't sound right given their description.

      I didn't realize that what we had could potentially be so special! Kind of exciting. Thanks for your input, and I will let you know what I find when I am able to study the bottle a little more closely!

      1. re: OkayTea

        Thanks for your second post. I have never heard of Pelinkovac before, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, and now I realize that I was wrong in my first post - The Hungarian fruit brandies are not called Pachinka, but PALINKA.

        Notice the similarity between the Hungarian word Palinka and and the Serbian/Croatian word Pelinkovac, which makes me think that you DO have a bottle of bitters infused fruit-brandy.

        There is a Hungarian brand called Zwack, and they make a liqueur called Unicum, which is a bitters-infused palinka. They also make a milder, sweeter version called Unicum Next, which is marketed and sold in the US simply as SWACK. It is in a dark spherical bottle with a large 'plus' sign (+) on a red background.
        My Hungarian friend met the owner of Zwack, when he was in town to help push the Zwack brands in the US. They hit it off, because they were both Hungarian and like drinking (haha!) and my friend told me that Zwack wants to position itself as another college-party shot shooter drink, much like Jagermeister did.
        I have noticed a few bars now have Zwack behind the bar now, and if you keep your eye out for it, you may find it and order a shot, to see how it compares to the liqueur you have at home.

        Please write back when you have a taste-test report of the liqueur you have at home. A picture of the bottle and tag would be nice too, if you can manage.

        1. re: jerryc123

          Interesting market positioning background on Zwack Next / Zwack Liqueur. I'm not surprised, as the stuff is pretty mild and sweet, needing a healthy dose of acid to be used in a balanced cocktail. It's too bad that your friend didn't encourage/beg the owner to get the real Unicum imported, as it sounds about 100x more interesting to me.

          1. re: EvergreenDan

            Really sad that Diageo has replaced UNICUM in the USA with the very lame ZWACK NEXT aka ZWACK. I've written to them several times with no response. Today I received confirmation form the US distributor (Diageo) that UNICUM is definitely no longer available in the USA.

            The town I live in has a large Hungarian population. This news is going to piss quite a few of them off!

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Dobar Dan!
        I just finished spending 3 months in Dubrovnik and the liquor your are talking about is one of the finest. "Medica" (pronounced 'med-eat-suh') is honey rakija. It is not very popular in Southern Dalmacia, but you can surely find it at larger stores like Pemo & Tommy Mart. Also the Pelinkovac (mentioned below) is a very bitter liquor - far from the sweet tasting medica.
        Best of luck! So far I have been unable to find it anywhere on the east coast :-(
        bok bok

        1 Reply
        1. re: CroatianNate

          We have a house in Istria and each time we visit we bring some Medica (and several other types of Rakija) back to Canada. We have quite a collection here and in Croatia! We are now friends with one of the producers in Istria. Thankfully he is also generous with his prsut.

        2. I don't know what prompted me to return to this post from a while back, but it is, in fact, medica. Any suggestions about how to drink it or what should accompany it?

          1. WE were recently in Zagreb and drank honey bready regularly. Some of it from the street vendors was not drinkable, but the Palace Hotel in Zagreb had a good one. Back in the States, the closest we have found so far is the Christian Brothers. We will be trying to make some of our own shortly starting with half and half and doctoring toward 3 brandy and one honey to get the taste we like. Goes down like cough syrup! Enjoy