All the nations are happened to have one or several national drinks. Moreover, sometimes we associate exact drinks with entire nations or countries. For example, when we hear about the wine, we think about France, Italy, or Spain. Another one, what to associate with a bear? Germans, of course! And let’s not mention the Russian national drink. The brain immediately draws bears and balalaika in addition. Despite the fact that nowadays they are just stereotypes but nothing more, the main tendency is visible.
Historically, Slovenes were on the crossroad of the world. Therefore, they developed a national love for the local schnapps, rakija, brandy with different fruit flavors as well as to vine and beer, that were being produced here since old times.
So, what should you drink in order to be a true Slovenian? Do they have Slavic traditions? Or maybe, they borrowed a lot from Austrians or Italians? What would they choose: vine, beer, or vodka? Or maybe, rakija? Let’s find out what to try while being in Slovenia in order to be a true Slovenian!
Indeed the situation is quite interesting. On the one hand, Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia, which was the Balkan country. In the Balkans, the most popular spirit is rakija (rakia). However, not in Slovenia, in fact. First of all, now Slovenia tries to be more central-European than a Balkan country. Secondly, Slovenia really borrowed more from their northern and western neighbors than from southern ones. On the other side, it is still drunk in Slovenia as well because the real national drink here is schnapps. So, where is the difference?
No difference actually, because they are the same. Some people may say that they are different in softness, but there it is not the truth. The main difference that rakija was named on Balkans and schnapps was named by Germans! The best translation to English will be “brandy”.
Schnapps, Rakija, Brandy
Undoubtedly, it is the favorite alcoholic drink in Slovenia. In local lingo, it is called “zganje”. At least one bottle should be on the table in times of national celebrations. Of course, you can buy the bottled one in any shop, but wait! The best schnapps is home-brewed, with unique recipes carried inside the Slovenian families from generation to generation. Luckily for you, it is not needed to go search from a garage to a garage, asking people to try a bit. In fact, any self-respecting bar across the country can provide you a wide range of flavors and levels of softness. There are pear, peach, lemon, blueberry, plum – anything for the most gourmand-ish drinkers.
In fact, schnapps is made from fruits. For example, in order to create it, first of all, you need to keep fruits in barrels until they start to ferment. After it, brewers boil the mash catching the steam created in the process. This is called by them “distilling”. The distillation process purifies and liquefies the fruit mash and produces alcohol. During this process, you will get approximately 20-25 liters of liquid out of 80 liters of crushed, fermented fruits. Moreover, this will be only about 5-10% of alcohol content. For true schnapps, the second distillation is required. This time, it can include flavoring (the addition of another fruit). For the true schnapps, it is required to raise its alcohol level at least to the desired 40 percent.
The most popular Slovenian schnapps are slivovka (plum), borovnica (blueberry), medica (honey), and viljamovka (pear). For those ones, who are fans of an herbal Jagermeister-ish flavor, the best choice would be pelinkovac.
Frankly speaking, viticulture and winemaking have existed in nowadays lands of Slovenia since the times of Celts and Illyrians tribes. Sometimes it is really obscure that people used to associate wine with France, Spain, and Italy because Romans introduced to their lands winemaking a lot after. It is an incredible number, but today Slovenia has 28,000 wineries and produces from 80 to 90 million liters annually. It is estimated that the country has 22,300 ha of vineyards!
If to consider the type of wine, 75% of Slovenian wine production is white wine. Interesting fact, that almost all the wine is being consumed domestically. Only 6.1 million liters a year are being exported. The most popular destinations are the United States, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. 70% of all the production is classified as a premium product, and only 30% is the basic table wine.
The three principal wine regions are the Drava Wine-Growing Region, the Lower Sava Wine-Growing Region, and the Littoral Wine-Growing Region. On the other hand, the Littoral Region is Slovenia’s most internationally known region. Moreover, it produces red wine while predominantly Slovenia produces the white one, as was said above.
Here comes the rhetorical question, “how come?” Really, it does not seem that Slovenia is in a perfect geographical location. In fact, it is. Most of its territory lies in the zone of the mild continental climate. This means no critical temperatures and overabundance or absence of precipitation. The average winter temperature is from 0 °C to -2 °C on flat regions and from -4 °C to -6 °C in the mountains. The precipitation level is 950 mm per annum, whereas 2000 mm in mountainous regions. Moreover, those climate conditions are possible because of the Slovenian Alps that cover cold wind masses from the North and keep hot masses from the Adriatic sea inside the country.
Three of the most popular Slovenian wines are Pinela, Žametovka, and Cviček. The first one is to produce the municipality of Vipava. It has typical aromas like floral and fruity notes with reminiscent of citrus and tropical fruits. The wine perfectly suits pasta, cheese, cold cuts, salads, roasted vegetables, duck, and goose. Žametovka is produced in Lower Carniola. This wine is usually pale in color, light, fresh, and high in acidity with distinctive raspberry flavors. Cviček is the wine from Dolenjska region. It has distinctive acidity, which is a perfect complement to traditional Slovenian cuisine. Also, it goes well with roasted meat, pork, cabbage, stews, and sausages.
Two of the most popular beer brands in Slovenia are Union and Laško. The last one celebrated its 190th anniversary in 2015. They have a strong monopoly on the national market and owned by the same company, Heineken. Their most popular beers are plain lagers, Union beer, and Laško/Zlatorog beer. The most popular type is beer is a pale lager. It is drunk in almost 95% of cases. Union is considered as the beer of the capital city, Ljubljana. On the other hand, Laško beer takes a 60% market share. People say that Laško is a bit more bitter.
Besides these two main ones, there are 30 smaller breweries in the country as well. Human Fish was the first craft brewery in Slovenia. Some other ones are Pelicon and Bevog. Of course, there are tons of other craft beers that deserve a separate article, but here we should like to emphasize that for those who are tired of typical lagers, the craft is the best decision. You can find different flavors as well as types and mixtures of them. We should consider that Slovenian craft beers are on the same level as the Belgium ones. The last ones well know throughout the world, by the way. Therefore, if you would like to taste something new and extraordinary, let’s choose a bar and a favorite flavor.
Of course, there is an incredible amount of national drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Moreover, people often define those drinks by countries or more likely by regions, where those drinks are popular. However, in the modern globalized world, it is not relevant anymore. For instance, people today drink tea, coffee, or hot chocolate every day. For sure, many years ago, those drinks were associated with the regions where they were taken from. However, today tea, coffee, and hot chocolate became so wide-spread that nobody cares where they originated. The other question is in the fact that there are different ways of drinking those beverages. For example, the traditional tea ceremony in Japan, mate tea from Latin America, or the British way of drinking with milk.
Those peculiarities make a difference. Slovenians love schnapps, wine, and beer. However, the main point is the Slovenian way to drink those ones. Of course, brands differ as well as tastes, but beer stays beer, and the wine stays wine. An interesting thing that schnapps sometimes is rakija, sometimes rakia, sometimes just raki as in Greece, and somebody tends to name it flavored vodka.
The most important to feel Slovenia is to visit it. The best way to do this is on national holidays. Secondly, you need some Slovenian dishes, Slovenian deserts, Slovenian music, and the most important – Slovenes themselves. In order to feel Slovenia, it is not enough to drink a Slovenian beverage.
Moreover, every time you should remember to drink alcohol with responsibility. Sometimes it is easier to feel the country, its traditions, and culture without any influence. The clear mind is the best for the most objective view around, and critical reflection about the feeling while being here.
So, if you would like to try one or several national drinks – let’s do this, but don’t forget to feel everything other that only drinks. Slovenia has many more beautiful things. Sometimes you can get dizzy about nature. Definitely, you will!
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