The hottest new spirit in Chicago this winter? Plum brandy, which two Chicago distilleries released this week.
At Fat Rice’s holiday market last Sunday, the Macanese restaurant was selling bottles of Onu Tuica Romaneasca, a Romanian plum brandy, that the restaurant’s chef Abe Conlon and Transylvanian janitor, Ioan "Onu" Aldea, made with CH Distillery.
Aldea brought samples of a homemade plum brandy to Conlon, and they worked together with CH to develop a recipe. Michigan’s Seedling Farms naturally fermented 1,500 pounds of fruit and delivered them to CH, where they were distilled. While 1,500 pounds sounds like a lot, it only resulted in 80 half-bottles of brandy, some of which were sold during the market. The rest are mostly being poured at Fat Rice, with a few at CH Distillery and some for sale at Perman Wine Selections.
I sampled the brandy at the market and, at 90 proof, it’s a doozy of a spirit. Plum flavors come through clearly, and since the pits were exposed during the fermentation process, I picked up on nutty notes as well. I asked Conlon how he’d be using it in the restaurant, and he said he’d be serving it straight.
The Tuica is also the first in a series of fruit brandies for CH, which is also working on cherry, pear, peach and quince brandies.
Rhine Hall will be releasing a slivovitz plum brandy, which is similar to tuica. Rhine Hall distiller Jenny Solberg says that they drove to Michigan four months ago to pick up 15,000 pounds of plums, which they chopped and fermented before distilling. The brandy is designed as an after-dinner drink, or used in cocktails, like an old fashioned. The slivovitz will be released on Saturday in the tasting room from 2–7pm.