Croatia's Top Spirits, Ranked by Playboy

Mixology

A Playboy Taste Test of Croatian Liquor

Before last week, most Americans’ pop-culture knowledge of Croatia was limited to a vague recollection of the Yugoslav Wars or Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame, filmed in the walled city of Dubrovnik. But when Croatia defeated England in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the country become the second smallest nation, behind Uruguay, to reach the World Cup finals. There, the team will face the young, talented squad from France.

Enjoy your snifter of cognac or coupe of champagne if you’re cheering on Les Bleus, but if you’ve chosen to root for the underdog, you might as well drink like a Croatian. That's why Playboy assembled a highly scientific panel of semi-professional drinkers to sample six Croatian liqueurs, all produced by the Zagreb-based distillery Badel 1862. Equally scientific is our rating system, the base unit of which is naturally the Rabbit Head. If you'd like, you're welcome to swap out Rabbits for Team Croatia’s relentlessly likable captain, Luka Modrić, who is five-foot-eight and looks like a less smarmy Wes Anderson.

Prima Brand

There’s some online chatter that Badel was forced to drop the “y” on its Prima Brandy because it is not technically brandy, much as there can be no mistaking Cheez Whiz for cheese. Whatever the case, drinking this brandy-or-brandy-like-substance was not unlike drinking a wan imitation vanilla extract. It garnered such praise as “kind of good” and “inoffensive.”

Prima Brand

Pros
Its essence of vanilla is semi-pleasing.
Cons
Its attempt to be a brandy is offensive.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 bunnies

Travarica

The most complex of the bunch, this liqueur slaps you in the face (consensually) with green, bitter, herbal notes. Travarica is especially popular in Dalmatia, the gorgeous stretch of land in Southern Croatia running along the Adriatic Sea, and many households make their own travarica by infusing grape brandy with a blend of Mediterranean herbs, fruits and roots. Some include saffron, which accounts for the spirit’s soft yellow hue.

Badel’s variety contains lemon balm, sage, anise and lavender. If you favor liqueurs that might also be medicine, this is the Croatian spirit for you. Our tasters compared it, not unkindly, to oil of oregano and tea tree oil.

Travarica

Pros
Complex—green, bitter, herbal.
Cons
Not for those who shy away from medicinal flavors.
Rating: 3 out of 4 bunnies

Medica

What could be more appealing than a liqueur named “medica”? The label features a rather lovely image of a bee and honeycomb, so we had an idea of what might be in store. We were unprepared, however, for the sweet brawn of the smell, descriptions of which ranged from “Japanese grape gummy candy” to “clean gauze,” which is infinitely preferable to “unclean gauze.” The honey definitely comes through in a way that tasters identified as “grapety purple” and “stale Halloween candy.” This one split the panel, with responses swinging from “I could smell this forever” to “potently not good.”

Medica

Pros
Surprising scents of sweetness.
Cons
Reminiscent of candied liquor.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 bunnies

Orahovac

This is straight up Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. One taster refused to believe that it was alcoholic, but indeed, it’s a 48-proof liqueur made from green walnuts. The Italians call it nocino, and the dark color and notes of maple and cola come from infusing brandy with the immature flesh of the nuts, a sentence for which I will not apologize. You will love this if you like a gentler amaro like Cardamaro or are seven.

Orahovac

Pros
A nice alternative to amaro.
Cons
Not for the nut-averse.
Rating: 3 out of 4 bunnies

Pelinkovac Gorki

Woody and sappy, Pelinkovac smells like a very expensive candle that would be sold to you by a shop boy with an asymmetrical haircut. It’s made with a base of wormwood and bitter herbs, and of the six spirits we sampled this one was both the most assertive and tasted the least like artificial flavoring. Badel 1862’s website boasts, “Its rich natural taste leaves no one indifferent,” which our volunteers found not to be the case, dispensing raves such as “I don’t mind this one” and “I kind of like it?”

The website continues, “Pelinkovac Gorki is a natural choice for those who wish to experience the primeval driving power of nature. Unexpected, surprising and waking, the unique sweet bitterness hides the true sweetness of life. Look adventure in the eye, indulge in his suggestive, seductive aroma and let the mystical dark color and strong, refreshing scent encourage you on your journey to the finish line!” We hope Team Croatia is doing shots of this before taking to the field on Sunday.

Pelinkovac Gorki

Pros
Suggestive, seductive, mystical, dark, strong.
Cons
Not available freely in the States.
Rating: 4 out of 4 bunnies

Svatovski Kruškovac

Kruškovac is specifically supposed to be a brandy made with pears, which is confusing because this particular type of kruškovac tastes exactly like banana Runts. In Croatian, “svat” means “wedding guest,” which I suppose explains the image of the bride and groom on the label. Is this a traditional wedding drink? Do Croatian pears taste like American banana candy? These were but two of the many questions our tasters had, the most pressing of which was “Who would do this?”

Svatovski Kruškovac

Pros
The English translation of its name.
Cons
Just about everything else.
Rating: 0.5 out of 4 bunnies
It’s worth noting that while Badel 1862—whose slogan is “Drink less, but of the best!”—is the largest and oldest Croatian spirits brand, it is not necessarily the favorite of Croatians with discerning palates. Several other brands of travarica and pelinkovac especially were recommended, but none of them came in a convenient box set at Split airport’s duty free.

Our takeaway—while a few of the liqueurs we sampled were palatable, we’ll stick to Croatian wines, many of which are legitimately excellent. And if all this isn’t sufficient to get you excited for the big match, we’ll leave you with Croatia’s official World Cup song, “Igraj moja Hrvatska,” by everyone’s favorite hard rock dads the Zaprešić Boys. Živjeli—and...go Croatia!
Thanks to our panel of professional pornographers/amateur drinkers and Damir Borscak for Croatian cultural assistance.

Related Topics