The International Slivovitz Tasters Association
Our Mission: We pledge to enjoy the pleasant
futility of collecting, tasting, evaluating, and reporting on every single style
of Slivovitz from every single distiller in the world every single year.
Judging and ISTA
For many years Slivovitz lovers have depended on ISTA, the International Slivovitz Taster's Association, to train and certify Slivovitz Judges, host the annual Slivovitz Competition, provide slivovitz rankings, and sanction Slivovitz Tasting events.
Each year, ISTA collects examples of Slivovitz from distillers large and small all over the world, and each year a panel of experienced tasters begins opening bottles, comparing color, aroma, taste, mouthfeel, follow, and other factors to discover the best Slivovitz produced in the world that year. Unlike many tasting panels, the Slivovitz Festival does not charge a bottle entry fee and the judges are volunteers. Slivovitz is not just another insignificant category in some huge international beverage tasting procedure where the hired judges think Slivovitz is just another fruit brandy with a lower case 's'. We care about Slivovitz, we only care about Slivovitz, and our results show it. Importers, distributors, and retailers trust ISTA and the annual Slivovitz Festival Competition to guide their business. 20,000 Slivovitz drinkers visit our listings each month to figure out what to drink next.
Our ISTA Judges are donating their taste buds, time, and experience to help our Festival visitors find the Slivovitz that suits their palates. So how does it work? Well, if a distiller thinks that their slivovitz is worth drinking, they send us some information. We want to know what kind of plums they used, if they add yeast, sugar, or other additives, and how they distilled it. We send them a 3 page form to fill out, and review their websites for information and clues. Then, the distiller sends us samples of that years release (remember that some Slivovitz is aged for many years) and we start tasting.
ISDA or ISTA? (Terre help)
The Judging Process
Getting ready –
Glassware - We use Riedel Vinum:Spirits glasses (the Vinum 416/17), filled with 5/8 ounce (20ml) of slivovitz. This amount allows for some swirling without splashing, and is a good size mouthful for swishing (if you desire). Don't forget to rinse the glasses between shots. We use distilled water.
Cleansing your palate – Provide cool water for rinsing your mouth between tastings. We recommend non-chlorinated water, either spring water or reverse osmosis, and fresh bread to help your mouth recover between tastings. The goal here is to give each slivovitz the same chance, so plan on eating only after the tasting, since cheese and strongly flavored foods will affect your tastebuds.
Blind versus Bottle – We’re big fans of keeping the bottles in front of us when we’re tasting something new, but for an Official Slivovitz Festival tasting you've got to keep things impartial. Fill the glasses in another room and identify each brand with a number. Trust us on this, keep a list or you’ll forget which number matched which bottle. Really. Write it down.
Standard – We insist that you start each tasting session with a shot of Clear Creek Distillery Blue Plum Brandy. This will help you standardize your tastings, especially when you're switching between styles or have more than one tasting session. We chose Clear Creek for several reasons. It’s an excellent product, scoring Gold in the 2004 and 2005 Competition, and receiving special honors in 2006. It's easier to notice the plum aroma, skin notes, and pit bite in a plum brandy aged in glass. Finally, Steve McCarthy has a reputation for rigorous quality control, so we're confident that the 2012 batch will be as good as the '04, '05, '06.... So far, he hasn't let us down. Steve, thank you for your assistance and your excellent quality. We really couldn't do this without you, or your plum brandy.
Visual – Take a look at the glass. Slivovitz that’s not aged, or is aged in glass should be clear as water. Wood aged slivovitz picks up color from the casks, but should still be clear, not cloudy. Swirl the glass and look at the legs or tears (the Marangoni effect) It’s caused by differences in the surface tension between alcohol and water. You should notice a more legs in higher proof slivovitz. This doesn’t really mean much, but it’s fun to do, and looks cool. We'd tell you that it really impresses the ladies, but we took an oath to tell the truth. There should be no particulate matter.
Score: _____ of 10 possible points
Aroma – Sniff deeply, searching for plums, mold, green, or rotten egg smells (sulfides). Notice the bite of the alcohol. Smoky or wood odor is expected in an aged slivovitz. Wood smell in a glass aged slivovitz means that the plum cleaning missed some twigs. Smell for chemical odors, acetone, or fusels. Swirl the glass and repeat. Now do the Stawski Sniff . Place the palm of your hand over the glass, and tip it over. Rub the circle of slivovitz between your palms to warm it, cup your hands and sniff deeply.
Score: _____ of 25 possible points
Alcohol – Higher proof slivovitz tends to have a harsher bite, simply due to the alcohol. The higher the quality of the slivovitz, the less noticeable the alcohol for same proof. Slivovitz is diluted to lower the proof for taxation and legal reasons, so we don’t score on proof unless the slivovitz is homemade. Score for the bite, and harsh is bad.
Score: _____ of 5 possible points
Mouthfeel – A very subjective measure. Hold the slivovitz in your mouth for a while. Rub your tongue against the roof of your mouth. What does the slivovitz feel like. Is it thin and slippery, smooth, viscous, astringent, dry? Does your tongue feel coated? How you like the mouthfeel is how you should score. Good slivovitz has a smooth, slightly dry feel. Higher alcohol levels can cause dryness, but a sweeter slivovitz can be deceptive.
Score: _____ of 10 possible points
Taste – Start with the instant it touches your tongue. Was it bitter, smooth, harsh, smoky? Could you taste plum, or was the oak overpowering. A taste like bitter almonds means the distiller broke the pits when preparing the slivovitz, or let it ferment on the stone longer than necesary. A caramel, or burnt taste is usually caused by burning the mash when using direct heat on the still. (industrial distillers use steam heat, traditional distillers may use flame) Taste acetone, chemical or dull? There may be ‘tails’ the end of the distilling run which contain fusals, fatty acids, and esters. An herbal taste usually means the plums weren’t stripped of leaves and plums before fermenting.
Score: _____ of 30 possible points
Aftertaste – After you spit, and slivovitz experts always spit while tasting more than one bottle, albeit reluctantly, what did your mouth feel like? Did your tongue go numb? Old gym socks, or chemical waste dump is bad. Plum, oak, or pleasant lingering tastes are good. Deciding that it’s a crime to spit this mouthful is a very good sign, but means you’re done testing for the day. Be still for a moment, sometimes it takes time for the aftertaste to fully develop. Oh, and no talking until you've written your own comments. This prevents accidential collusion between the judges. Once you've written your score, get ready to argue. The final score a slivovitz recieves includes each individual judges score, plus a consensus score. The consensus score is an experience adjusted average of all ISTA Judges scores.
Score: _____ of 20 possible points
Use the 'Official US Slivovitz Festival Scoring Sheet, available as a .pdf form.
To ask about the Festival, or to enter a Slivovitz, or to Sponsor the Festival, drop us an email at: Bill at slivovitz dot US - (write slivovitz in the subject to get through our spam filter)
If you've got slivovitz in your family history, you can guess why we're doing this. For the rest of you... Whether it's called plum brandy, Slivovitz, mirabelle, or quetsch, for generations slivovitz has toasted births, weddings, successes and failures. It's how families greet returning members, celebrate victories, mourn defeat, and honor memories of our lost ones. It's a part of our heritage, part of our bloodlines, part of who we are, and a reminder of where we come from. Sipped, slammed, savored, or shot - Slivovitz will change your outlook on life just as it has for millions of fans for hundreds of years. Na zdravlje!
The Slivovitz Festival was created by the Brothers Radosevich, and has grown with the assistance of fellow slivophiles into the premier Slivovitz Tasting event in the world. We offer the most brands, the widest variety, the largest number of contries, and the most experienced judges to help you find a slivovitz that matches your taste. Come by the Festival, and celebrate with us.