At a conference last week, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) honored Serbia by declaring slivovitz—a plum brandy popular throughout Eastern Europe, and especially in the former Yugoslavia—a beverage with “intangible cultural heritage.” David Klein explains why Ashkenazi Jews long favored the beverage:
The spirit became particularly associated with Polish Jewry in the 19th century, as Jews became prominent in the field of alcohol production and the running of inns and taverns. They found special utility in slivovitz when it came to maintaining the Jewish laws around keeping kosher.
Unlike wine, traditional brandy, and some types of vodka, being made from plums (the root sliva means plum in several Slavic languages) meant that slivovitz was not subject to the same stringent rules that apply to grape-based alcoholic beverages. And unlike beer, whiskey, and other types of vodka, it had no wheat or other grains, so it was acceptable for consumption on Passover. It was also relatively inexpensive.
When masses of Polish Jews arrived in America, they brought slivovitz with them, and it quickly became associated with the Jewish community. Today, much of the slivovitz sold in the United States is marketed to Jewish consumers, typically around Passover each spring.