This year, Jozsef Stevlik has made a mark in the spirits industry by being awarded a total of 14 silver medals at the London Spirits Competition, Bartender Spirits Awards, and USA Spirits Ratings 2021.
Jozsef Stevlik is a fruit-based spirit specialty from the Carpathian Region of Central and Eastern Europe, reinventing the royal liquid since the Habsburg Monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They trace back to a 2000-year-old tradition in tree fruit agriculture and trade along the Danube River, established in the Pannonian Province by the Roman Empire and later governed by Attila the Hun - the predecessor of the Hungarian Tribe.
Awarded with 6 Silver medals at London Spirits Competition, 6 Silver medals at Bartender Spirits Awards, and 2 Silver medals at USA Spirits Ratings, the precious liquid was judged by Cutting-Edge Bartenders, Bar Executive Managers, and Premium Buyers from the On-Premise Trade.
We sat down with the founder, Dusan Stevlik, and discussed his Worldview on Spirits, the Carpathian Region, and how Fruit Spirits can reduce carbon footprint.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in 1975 in contemporary Bratislava in the former state of Czechoslovakia during the Communism Period of the Eastern Bloc and the occupation from the Cold War Era between the USA and Russia. Bratislava is today the Capital City of Slovakia which separated from its bigger Czech brother short after the velvet revolution in 1989 with the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Communism Regime in Eastern Europe. Bratislava is also called the little sister of Vienna and is historically more significant under its original name Pressburg (Austrian) or Pozsony (Hungarian) serving as coronation city for Kings and Queens during the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary.
Pressburg has been mostly dominated since 1526 by the House of Habsburg and has been the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary until 1783. The city played an important strategic role in finance and trade, located between the borders of Austria and Hungary, being the hotspot of cultural life, fashion, and art. The first World War started as a local affair in Sarajevo and escalated as a domino effect into a global affair involving all Great Powers including the USA and Russia leaving the Carpathian Region and specifically Pressburg in a cultural mess. The defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918, caused the downfall of a multi-ethnic constitution consisting of Germans, Austrians, Italians, Czechs, Moravians, Slovaks, Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Bulgares, Slovenes, Sinti Roma, and Jews. The old territory has been divided into new governing states approved and orchestrated by the Allied Powers. One of them has been the state of Czechoslovakia, created from parts of Bohemia and Moravia inhabited by Czechs, and the other from Upper- Hungary inhabited by Slovaks. Against the will of native citizens who were Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and Slovaks, the city of Pressburg was renamed forcefully into Bratislava by a minority of Slovak patriots without official rights or declaration.
1000 years of History disappeared with one signature and the world has been witness to one of the most unspoken crimes of Cultural Heritage Devastation. Therefore, my identity is not based on artificial post-war borders and a country that has been created through decisions of political individuals but it is based on my Mother tongue and the Lands of our Ancestors in the Carpathian Region.
Dusan Stevlik, Founder, Jozsef Stevlik Spirits
Your brand carries the name of your Grandfather Jozsef Stevlik, what significance has it to you?
My Grandfather was born in 1910 in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and served as Chef de Cuisine in the Naval Forces of the Danube River Flotilla cruising between Bratislava and the Black Sea. He has been involved in the passive resistance against the Carpathian Occupation from the Nazis in WW2.
My Grand-Grandfather Stephen (Istvan) Stevlik died in WW1 serving the Holy Crown of Hungary and the Emperor of Austria Francis Jozsef I. who has been the husband of the famous Austrian Empress Elizabeth “Sisi.”
All men have given up all the comforts of life to serve the needs of the Carpathian Homeland and its people. It has a great deal of signification for me to give my Grandfather the credit and honor for the Gentleman he was, always willing to help and showing interest in other people. He was the person who opened a conversation on every spot and was able to establish friendships and build trust in seconds, a bit of an Irish – Italian Mentality. The most important for me is that the name Jozsef Stevlik stands for all the people of the Carpathians and their Grandfathers who were growing up in this magnificent place and who are part of this last Virgin Natural Reserve of Europe. I believe that the Carpathian Region needs a product people can be proud of and which represents their hometown in the way it deserves on an international level.
What are your best memories about your Grandfather and what emotion do you believe your Grandfather represents most?
I remember traveling with my Grandfather since I was a small boy. We were sitting in the Bratislava-Budapest train which has been part of the former Orient Express Route constructed by the Emperor of Austria Francis Jozsef I. where smugglers from the very north of the Baltic Sea has connected to our route and traveled further to the very south of the Balkan Peninsula with the final destination Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey.
Smuggling of western goods which has not been available in the communist markets was the biggest underground activity for regular individuals to make a living behind the Iron Curtain. My Grandfather was trading with Moonshine Single Plum Spirit (Slivovitz) exchanging it in train with other traders for US Dollars or West-German Marks who were exchanging it again with other traders on the next traveling route. My Grandfather was growing his own Fruit Plums in the Garden and had also the best access to Single Plum Spirits on the black market. Plum Spirit was the most valuable trading Item and a hard currency calculated on the market by USD to Liter.
Everybody on the trade route knew my Grandfather by name and they asked always in different languages how many liters of Single Plum Spirit (Slivovitz) do you have on you? He just could not write his name on the bottles as this would have been evidence of a crime to the Secret Police and would be punished with jail. After a good deal, he always opened his own flask of Slivovitz to share it with other passengers and to tell them a story about his travels and to learn about their own adventures and lives. It has been a warm and friendly feeling which only my Grandfather was able to create and the people loved it. This is what I wish for all visitors to experience when they travel through the Land of the Carpathians, to find friendship and a warm feeling when sharing a flask of Jozsef Stevlik Single Plum Spirit.
You were separated from your Grandparents at a very early age and could not return before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. That must have been hard, how did you deal with it?
In fact, the travels with my Grandfather have been my last childhood memories from the Carpathian Homeland and it left some profound scars growing up in German Exile separated from my Birthplace. After my parents have decided to leave Czechoslovakia in the status of political refugees due to blackmail and extortion through High Standing Communist Members there was no way back of the return.
To keep my memories alive about my homeland I was reading the only book in the Slovak language available which was an illustrated Catholic Bible. This actually saved me from not forgetting my mother tongue and maybe that’s why I produce today in Kosher Standards (laughing). I have never seen my Grandmother again as she died before the Velvet Revolution, but my Grandfather continued to visit us in Germany and supplied the finest Single Plum Spirit to my Parents who were running a Premium Tennis Club and a Bar & Restaurant called “The Good Soldier Svejk.”
My father Dusan Stevlik used to prepare dried plum soaked in Single Plum Spirit and served it as Austro-Hungarian Digestif Specialty after Dinner. Our International guests loved the moment when my father appeared with this precious liquid and people ordered food only to qualify for the digestif as it was not available a la carte. I perfectionated the recipe and served it for the first time at the Afterparty of Woman of the Year in Vienna and Hollywood in Vienna 2017 in collaboration with Norbert Moser a recognized Fruit Spirit Mixologist from Austria. The Signature Drink is called Martini Attila and is a homage to Attila the Hun and his Carpathian Homeland. It is garnished with Sundried Plum and served 5:1 with Gin and Jozsef Stevlik Single Plum Spirit – Unoaked, decorated with a silver fir branch.
Why do you think the Fruit Spirit Industry in the Carpathian Region is not recognized?
It’s difficult to recognize something if you don’t even know it exists. This is the hardest fact to swallow and it’s not only about Western Europe not recognizing the Carpathian Fruit Spirit Category but also about the definition and positioning of the product itself.
Carpathian Plum Spirit is known by different names most of the time with a bad reputation, such as Slivovitz (Yiddish-German), Slivovica (Slavic), Palinka (Hungarian), Țuică (Romanic), Rakia (Balkan), or Zwetschgenbrand/Schnaps (German). This is very confusing for the international consumer to understand what this product is all about and rather refuse to taste or to consume it because of lack of trust.
Therefore, we are going to the market with an Anglicization Strategy where our label information is based on the English language which defines the Type of Fruit, Origin, and Finish of Product. Imagine you have different names for Whisk(e)y, Rum, Tequila, Gin, or Vodka depending on the production country, that would be a complete challenge for bartenders and consumers. There is no unification of products in the Carpathian Region with one united voice and storytelling to be promoted on an international level to support the Carpathian Fruit Trade.
Jozsef Stevlik Plum Fruit Spirit
How many Fruit Trees and Families did you support with your first production in 2018?
We have saved around 3000 Fruit Trees from deforestation and created an income for Fruit Pickers and their families with a fundraised budget of 40.000 Eur from Jewish merchants, which has been used to buyout fruits from local Farmers. The average income in the Carpathian Region is 500 Eur per month and most fruit pickers are coming from underrepresented communities where education is low and unemployment high.
This situation has an impact on local criminality rates and later emigration to Western Europe, where most of the time, talented young people end up in organized crime cells or register for social welfare with no motivation to gain education and to build a career.
To escape this vicious circle is mostly impossible once entered, and it affects families in Eastern Europe and the society of Western Europe. This problem needs to be solved at its roots from the very beginning, with the deployment and implementation of a solid ground for life in the Carpathian Homeland instead of solving emerging criminal affairs with Law Enforcement and Imprisonment in Western Europe which is financed from European Taxpayers money.
Where and how did you produce your Single Fruit Spirit and what is special about it?
We produced in Varda Distillery on the Borders of Transylvania in the Carpathian Lowlands, one of the oldest and most traditional distilleries in present-day Hungary, established in the year 1922 by a Jewish Merchant.
The land is historically known as Pannonia, a northeastern province from the Roman Empire and according to legends “an impenetrable land with gigantic oaks and gloomy forests inhabited by unusual birds with feathers that shine like fires at night.” The military frontier along the Danube river limes was established 2000 years ago to protect Roman land from Barbaric tribes coming from the east.
The land has been always appreciated for its volcanic terroir and the black earth “chernozem” one of the most fertile soils in the world. The Pannonian Land has a worldwide unique combination of Pannonian-Alpine-Continental Climate, which provides a special atmosphere to the tree and a specific character to the Fruit. An additional signature character in our Fruit Spirits is the use of ¾ Pure Spring Water from the High Tatra Mountains and ¼ Pure Spring Water from the Alpine Mountains.
The production process is low heat double–distillation in traditional copper pot stills not bigger than 1000l. The slow fermentation time takes a minimum of 1 month, and the Plum Fruit is semi-hand-destoned before entering the fermentation tank. No additional sugar is added, and no artificial flavor or grain spirit is allowed to enter the distillation process. Only ripe and freshly handpicked fruits, cold-pressed into 100% fruit juice are permitted to enter the fermentation tank.
Fruit Spirit production is regulated by the Hungarian Government under the European Palinka (Distillate) Law where only regional fruits and local distilleries are accepted to produce traditional Fruit Spirits. In the future, we are planning to integrate a digital blockchain system into the production process, where consumers can follow the product's journey and trace it back even to the tree where the fruit has grown and to the fruit picker who picked it. For us, the main focus and value are not the distillery but the full product life cycle starting from the terrain where the tree grows to the time when the tree starts flowering and giving its first fruits to be carefully picked. For us, the tree is part of the family and we would love to see our trees carry the names of bartenders who mix with our Fruit Spirits and promote the Carpathian Region.
How do you see the future of the Carpathian Region and why is it important?
The Carpathian Region is equivalent in size and geographical position to the former Austro-Hungarian Constitution inhabiting about 40 million people from different ethnic groups. The people of the Carpathian Lands have lost their unification for tradition and values for its Region as most of the time the Governments and Politicians are not serving the Carpathian Lands but personal interests. The Inhabitants of the Carpathians have lost their trust in the future and feel left behind by Big Brother Europe who replaced Big Brother Russia 30 years ago. Today Eastern Europe is covered with Western Products included Western Spirits, but no local product from the Carpathian Region has ever made it to the Western Markets.
The Carpathian Region cannot serve any longer as a consumer and cheap producer of western products but it needs to find its own identity which comes through a solid establishment of Brands and Export Products made in the Carpathian Region represented by Brand Owners and dedicated Founding Teams. The fruit growing sector is one of the main traditional incomes of the Carpathian Region, which is endangered through deforestation and illegal construction development forcing Farmers to give up their soil and sell it to a higher bidder as they cannot make enough income selling Fruits inside their own markets.
We have made the first steps to build recognition and safeguard a Cultural Heritage of a Carpathian Fruit Spirit Specialty which can deliver support to farmers and protect Fruit Trees. Eshel Handelsgesellschaft m.b.H is one of the first innovative startup companies from Austria that exported local Carpathian Farmer Products over the Atlantic Ocean and we need the support of Bartenders and Consumers to establish Carpathian Fruit Spirits into the international Bar Portfolio. The Carpathians are the last surviving Virgin Forests in Europe with unique wildlife and biodiversity representing the heritage of our Planet. The Carpathians are the concern and responsibility of everybody who lives on this planet and it is our job to spread the word about the untold situation happening in Europe.
Plum fruit picking
How can Fruit-based Spirits save fruit trees and deliver an impact on carbon footprint?
Fruit-based Spirit is the only Spirit Category that makes a One to One impact in the Carbon Foot Print-Index and is corruption save from Green Washing which means no Bull***t with Tree Planting Campaigns where Trees are planted (if they are!!!) to be cut again.
The main cause why Trees are cut is the value of the wood and the land on which the tree grows. We have to change the value proposition of wood and land with another higher selling value for the farmer which can be only generated with the transformation of the Trees own Fruit into a Premium Single Fruit Spirit which Bartenders will use for their Signature Drink creation. One case of 12 Bottles of Fruit Spirit is equivalent to One Fruit Tree. If 1000 Bartenders implement 12 bottles per year into the Cocktail Mixing Portfolio we can save 1000 Fruit Trees per season and support local Farmers for the next harvest.
This type of project can trigger real change and impact through crowdfunding and social media influencers without waiting for miracles from Government established Climate Conferences as COP26 in Glasgow this year. It has to be us people who decide and design the future on sustainable consumption and it has to be us people who will keep the control of action and finance in place through Fundraising and Community Entrepreneurship. I believe strongly that a new generation of environmental activists as Greta Thunberg, Nina Gualinga or Vanessa Nakate and millions of supporters will crack the code and going to make an impact on how Land, People, and Planet Heritage are governed in the future and that decentralized blockchain-based technologies are making the shift from Government Controlled Decisions to People Controlled Decisions based on one voice per person.
Our mission is to be voice and ambassador for the Carpathian Fruit Spirit Category and to connect Founder-based Fruit Spirits with Bartenders and Consumers. Our vision is a United Carpathian Commonwealth and a United Economic Identity in the Danube River Basin.
My fears are a total loss of cultural heritage in the European Union.
For more on Joszef Stevlik, contact Dusan Stevlik at firstname.lastname@example.org.