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Rakia: How to Make It and the Important Rules of Drinking It!

My writing includes my personal travel experiences, destination, history, and cultural information.

What is Rakia?

It seems that Rakia is "The" drink of the Balkans! So, it's not surprising that Rakia would be the adult beverage of choice in Croatia. ( The Balkans region includes: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. Some parts of Greece and Italy are also considered to be Balkan states). And to be honest, I'm told that Rakia is the national drink of every Balkan country! (I'll tell you about my first experience with Rakia in a bit!)

Rakia is made by distilling fermented fruit. It's made out of almost any fruit, but I've been offered honey and walnut varieties during my time spent in Albania. Friends, it is some powerful stuff! Medica is raki made with honey. The alcohol content ranges from 45 to 65 percent!

When I moved to Albania, I had never heard of Rakia before. Ouzo? Yes. Rakia? No. On my first morning, I went to a local cafe a few blocks from my apartment. I ordered a coffee and along with it, a small metal glass with a clear liquid was served to me. Hey, I was a foreigner, I drank the liquid down. My gosh, it was alcohol! Who would have thought that was served in the early morning hours! Wow! Was I shocked! I can't even tell you that it tasted good because I was instantly on fire down to my toes! Welcome to the Balkans!

The Should and Should Nots of Raki!

So, as my education on Rakia continued, there are many things I learned about this drink.

  • Rakia is not just alcohol; it's part of the culture in the Balkans. You are drinking a time-honored tradition with each swallow.
  • Homemade Rakia is what your goal should be when you seek it out. Store-bought Rakia, according to the people of the Balkans, is just junk! Even in cafes, taverns, and restaurants, you are probably being served someone's home-brew!
  • Rakia is drunk from the start of the day until the end of it. It is drunk by young and old alike in this manner!
  • If you have a cold, a stomachache, a sore tooth, Covid; or any ailment for that matter, you drink Rakia. It is said that it has medicinal qualities! I was given a couple of bottles with instructions to drink some each morning with my coffee; that it would keep me healthy!
  • Never ever, compare Rakia to any other adult beverage, no matter what!

There are Many Social Aspects in the Tradition

  • Never ever, turn down a Rakia when it is offered to you. This will insult your host, whether it be a restauranteur, a friend, or your landlord. it is a symbol of friendship and communication. It's a tradition!
  • The proper way to drink Rakia depends on the circumstances. If you are drinking just Rakia, you shoot it and toast in the language of whatever country you are in. If you are drinking with a beer, water, or any other beverage, you sip the Rakia.
  • Don't drink Rakia on an empty stomach or if you are overly full.
  • Typically, this drink is referred to as Rakia but theoretically, each fruit variety has its own name. When you order a Rakia or are offered one, you will be told it's Rakia. This is true unless you specifically ask what fruit it has been made from or you specifically request a certain variety.
  • Rakia is drunk straight up. It is not mixed with soda or any other mixer.

How to Make Your Own Rakia:

  • Ferment the fruit (the marc) in a barrel for a month or more.
  • After the fruit has fermented, it is boiled in a special kettle referred to as a Kazani.

The process of making this traditional drink is centuries old. The Kazani has three basic parts. There is the pot, the lid, and a pipe that the steam is used to transfer. The kettle is placed over an open fire. Fire is a critical part of the process of making Rakia. It cannot be too strong or too low. The heat of the fire is important so that the pomace is not burned.

Once the liquid reaches the boiling point, drops begin to come from the vaporizer. These first drops are almost pure alcohol. A good temperature to keep while your brew is cooking is about 20 C.

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The Head, the Heart, and the Tail

As the product distills, there are three parts that are distinctly different.

  1. The Head: has a very high alcohol concentration
  2. The Tail: does not have quite as much alcohol concentration as the head but also has a strong taste and aroma.
  3. The Heart: this is the only part intended for consumption. it is thinned, matured, and placed in bottles.

The head and tail are used in the next batch of Rakia, kind of like a starter.

Once the distillation process has begun, start to finish is about 3 hours. The distiller gets the perk of tasting the product during the cooking period. It is complete when the desired taste has been achieved.

My Impressions

It's important to note that while Rakia is enjoyed as a national drink in the Balkan countries, it's also found in other countries in some other form. Each country, even within the Balkans, has its own specialty.

As mentioned, this beverage is strong. While I know many people who have made a night out drinking Rakia, my experiences are much more sedate. If I was offered a glass, I accepted and drank it. I never could drink it every morning with my coffee. God knows I tried to live the traditional life, but that was one aspect I couldn't maintain!

I tasted some Rakia which was really good. It was smooth and had no "burn". There were also varieties I drank, that were strong and much harsher. It depends on the brew, the fruit, the distiller, and his/her preferences.

And so, when you are traveling, you have the exposure to new and different things. Some experiences you will enjoy for the rest of your life and they will become of you. other experiences, you will look back and say "I tried, but it's not for me"! And you know what? That's perfectly ok! It was like that for me. I tried it, but it's not my cup of tea. However, I am happy about the experience!

Until next time friends, remember "To Travel is To Live!"

© 2022 Dee Serkin

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