Borovicka is a traditional Slovak distilled spirit made from juniper. It has a flavor very similar to gin and some Borovička could be legally classified as gin based on gin’s broad definitions.
Most importantly, Borovička is also one of a handful of spirits that have protected status under Regulation No. 110/2008 of the European Parliament. Similar to Gin de Mahon and what Plymouth Gin used to have— this means that to be legally classified as Borovička a producer must 1) be in the narrowly defined region that spirit is endemic to and 2) must follow the classification guidelines outlined in the spirit’s technical file.
This technical file may have been one of the sticking points for Plymouth. In the technical file you must specify exactly how your spirit is made and what makes it special. Down to the very last ingredient.
Legally Defined, Borovicka form its technical file
“Spišská gin is a spirit drink…with a characteristic pronounced taste and aroma of juniper Juniperus communis, or juniperus oxycedrus.” The first line is where Borvicka deviates from gin. Gin is defined as deriving its primary flavor from Juniperus Communis— the common juniper— Borovicka can also use a tree known as Cade or Cedar that is native to the Mediterranean region. Plants for a Future rates the berries of Cade as not-exactly edible. Flavorwise, there are similarities in their underlying chemistry. ” J. oxycedrus. produced α.-pinene, myrcene, and limonene as major components.” [source]
Furthermore it must have these ingredients: a base spirit of grain and juniper, some added sweetening and purified drinking water from the High Tatra Mountains of Slovakia. Borovicka can also have juniper berries and twigs added into the spirit post-distillation for color.
The flavor must be subtle, typically juniper without foreign odors of flavors.
The Base Distillate: Grain and Juniper
The grain alcohol must also be produced in the designated geographical area. Other than that note, specifics to what grain are not mentioned.
While gin adds juniper as a botanical and distills a base spirit in the presence of juniper and other botanicals, Borovicka and several other Balkan juniper brandies actually ferment and distill the juniper. The technical file is incredibly specific and detailed.
But in short, juniper is ground in a mill until a fine powder. The berry dust is put in a fermentation vat with yeast, nutrients, and warm water. This mash is then fermented and distilled. The resulting juniper distillate is then used as part of the final Borovicka.
A final distilled ingredient, Juniper bonifikátor or “Juniper Brandy Aroma” is produced by macerating juniper berries in alcohol and distilling— much like traditional gin.
Completing The Proces
Sweetening is also added. though the technical file does not indicate a limit aside from using a syrup of 70-75 °Bx. Purified water is then added to the mixture and all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed to achieve the desired flavor.
The Borovicka rests for at least 14 days before sensory analysis determines if the Borovicka is ready. If so, the distillers filter it and the bottlers package it. Juniper twigs or berries may further be added to the bottles.
Borovicka’s origins are likely older than the technical file states. Juniper-flavored spirits were common in Blakan and Central European apothecaries by the 15th and 16th centuries. Specifically Borovicka is traced back to archival maps dating to 1773 where it was distilled near the Ľubovňa castle distillery.
It’s said that the rugged mountainous regions of Slovkia give the junipers which grow there a specific character— renowned by tradition and tourists who “take [juniper] as a gift.”
Drinking Culture Today
Practically unheard of outside of Slovakia, Borovicka is the 10th most popular spirit in terms of sales in the nation. Borovicka’s reputation among outsiders is that it’s “harsh,” though that stereotype perpetuated by travel guides fails to take into account that for the most part it’s a mild spirit. The technical file prescribes it as between 39.7% and 40.3% ABV.
Borovicka is widely accessible in Slovakia, though specialty retailers across Europe are starting to make it a bit more widely available.