According to the legend, the city of Hum, Croatia, was built by giants. One day long ago, the massive creatures were heaving rocks along the valley of the Mirna River to build their homes. After they’d finished, a few stones remained. To tidy up, the giants placed the leftover slabs upon the ridge above them and one of the smallest cities in the world was born. Today, the city of Hum hovers around a population of 20 people, but with its surrounding walls, entrance gate, castle, and hospital, the area doesn’t lack for much, especially liquor.
Hum is located on the Istrian Peninsula, the stomping grounds for many a culture over the years. But the Celtic Druids are said to be the ones who left behind an original recipe for the mistletoe brandy known as biska 2,000 years ago. Hum has become famous for its production of the herb-infused brandy, which enjoys a special celebration at the end of October during the annual Rakija Festival. Although Hum offers its locally made biska throughout the year, at the festival people can find a host of the homemade batches that producers from throughout the region bring to be judged and, hopefully, awarded for their top-notch flavor. Attendees can also taste a bit of Istria while hearing poetry dedicated to brandy.
What does biska taste like? First, strong. Referred to as a type of rakija, biska is essentially a fruit brandy or grappa that has been infused with mistletoe and herbs. Mistletoe, actually a parasitic plant (known by some for dangerously dangling over door frames during Christmastime), gets gathered from local apple trees before being soaked in the distilled brandy. After one last distillation to remove impurities, the final, herbaceous brandy becomes, as one poet puts it, “the medicine whose drops warm our hearts.”
Where to Try It
House of Biska (Kuća Biske)Hum, 52425, Croatia
If you find yourself in Hum, visit the House of Biska to see how the spirit is made and try a taste.