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Apuška - tradition of Slavonian Rakija

In the old heart of Slavonski Brod, there is a real hidden oasis for lovers of the Slavonian liquid success, rakija. In the atmosphere of the long tradition of the Panthy family, today Siniša Panthy makes excellent fruit brandies that captivate with their aromas and drinkability. We visited the Apuška distillery and cellar, whose strange name comes from the family's Hungarian-Slovak origins, while the owners are a veritable treasure trove of knowledge about Brod customs and gastronomic history.

On all the labels and signs of the distillery there is a mustachioed gentleman with the year 1932 under it. This is Bela pl. Panthy Sr. (1889-1965), who is also responsible for the fact that his descendants make phenomenal brandies and liqueurs today. Apuška was his nickname. That's what his children called him, and in translation from Hungarian (apa = dad) and Slovak (-uska = suffix used to form diminutives), apuška means - daddy.

His grandson Siniša pl. Panthy introduces us to the wine and brandy cellar and tells us about the history of the estate. The house was built in 1904. Apuška came to Brod in 1929, bought a house, and worked as an agronomist in fish farming. Cellaring was his love. Then, in 1932, he bought land in the Brod vineyard, planted a vineyard and orchard, and built a summer house. "We consider that year as the beginning of beginnings, so we put it on our labels," Siniša explains.

In this cellar, fruit is turned into premium brandies. The traditional copper boiler is the centre of the entire production. "We deliberately did not want to go for modern equipment. I claim that this is the real deal, it's a gas boiler and an electric mixer. All the brandy is baked twice, and we have brandy made from plums, Williams pears, quinces and apples. We also make blackberry and quince liqueurs," Siniša tells us.

We tasted them all. Quince is certainly the most sought after. It conquers the market with its wonderful smell and drinkable structure. All of this is somehow virtuosically coordinated, which is not surprising at all. Namely, Siniša's father, Bela pl. Panthy Jr. is a well-known musician, and in his honor today there is the Ship's Accordion Orchestra "Bela pl. Panthy" and the International Accordion Festival.

A few decades ago, accordion players also toasted with brandy from their grandfather's recipe, but the tradition began to wane in the mid-1980s. The Homeland War came, everything stopped, but the family managed to return the nationalised property.

Production is small and there are no plans to increase it, as this would result in a loss of quality. The summer tasting room is ready, and the winter one is being prepared. Thus, guests will be able to taste brandies in an original Slavonian setting. And there is nothing more Slavonian than plum brandy or šljivovica! It is first aged in mulberry barrel, then in oak and then stored in stainless steel barrels. Mulberry gives it a beautiful golden colour, it has no tannins and does not affect the taste like oak. In oak, šljivovica gets its characteristic taste.

All brandies are made according to the old recipe inherited from grandfather, where the quality of the fruit is crucial. They add high-quality yeasts and enzymes. Unfortunately, there is no production of quality yeasts and enzymes for distillates in Croatia, so you have to go to neighbouring Serbia to get them, and even there they are most appreciated from France.

We were particularly delighted with the apple brandy. All the ones we've tried so far have been strong and with an unpleasant aftertaste that lingers. A great feature of this distillery is that all fruit is deboned by machine. "That's the key thing," Siniša tells us, "the pit is removed from the fruit, and the entire seed centre comes out of the seedy fruit. In the machine, you get a jam-like mixture, the enzymes additionally extract the aroma from the peel, and the top-quality yeasts and the perfect temperature in the cellar work wonders." This is precisely why apple brandy is so pleasing!

While visiting the property, we notice a whole series of old items that are the heritage of the Panthy family. They were not collected in dusty attics and hidden cellars, but remained preserved in the family nucleus itself, and a large part of the items is related to fish farming. Namely, by imperial decree, Bela Apuška was sent to Pakračka Poljana to build ponds and put fish on the market. Then, by decree, he was sent to Slavonski Brod to form the Brod Ponds, which did not yet exist. He was the majority shareholder of that company, whose headquarters were right in the present-day distillery. The ponds themselves were along the Sava, near today's swimming pools.

In winter, it's best to warm up by the stove, and Grandma's kitchen is the central place for every visitor. Grandma Slavica is actually Siniša's mother, but everyone calls her grandma. Her kitchen is a real legacy of the past, with vintage sideboards and a wood stove. In the area next to the kitchen, a winter tasting room is being prepared, and here we also saw brandy and liqueur packaging. We believe that it will be a space for true fans of premium brandy, and until then you are free to visit the Apuška distillery:

Destilerija Apuška

Dr. Vladka Mačeka 45b, 35000 Slavonski Brod

Mobile: (+385) 95 749 4408

Photos: Taste of Adriatic and Destilerija Apuška

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