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The alcohol content of rakia is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50% to 80%). Rakia is widely considered to be а national drink of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Albania.
The origins of rakia are unknown. The name is derived from the Arabic عرق [ʕaraq] meaning "condensation" (which is the final phase of distillation), through the Turkish rakı, leading some[who?] to believe that it has some Middle Eastern influence and was developed in the Balkans during the Ottoman Empire era. Currently, there is no defined origin of rakia but there are many who claim to be the origins of the drink, most vocally Bulgaria, Serbia and Turkey.
Many countries produce similar fruit brandies which are listed here by their local names:
Common flavours are slivovica, produced from plums, kajsija, produced from apricots, or grozdova/lozova, produced from grapes. Fruits less commonly used are peaches, apples, pears, cherries, figs, blackberries, and quince. Similar spirits are produced in Romania, Moldova, Russia and the Caucasus. In Albania, rakia is most commonly made out of grapes in mild climate regions and out of plums (and sometimes out of mulberry or walnuts) in colder climate areas.
Plum and grape rakia are sometimes mixed with other ingredients, such as herbs, honey, sour cherries and walnuts, after distillation. A popular home-made variant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia is rakia produced from mixed fruits. In the Istrian and Dalmatian regions of Croatia, rakia tends to be home-made exclusively from grapes, where the drink is also known locally as trapa or grappa (the latter name also being used in Italy).
It is supposed to be drunk from special small glasses which hold from 0.03 to 0.05 L.
A popular myth is that one can tell the strength of rakia by the size of the ring of bubbles (venac) which forms when the bottle is well shaken. This is also mistakenly used as a measure of the quality of the liquor.
Greek Ouzo (from grape) and Tsipouro (from pomace), Turkish Rakı (from sun dried grapes) and Arak at Arabic and middle eastern countries differ from rakia as they are redistilled with some herbs (commonly Anise). Some Tsipuro in Greece are made without anise in the same manner as pomace rakia (or pomace brandy). "Boğma raki" in Turkey (common name of the domestic raki which is produced at homes and villages) is similar to rakia in the Balkans.
Rakia is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Serbia. It is the national drink of Serbia and is globally identified with Serbian culture. Serbia is the world's largest rakia producer and drinks more rakia per capita than any other country. According to Dragan Djuric, President of the Association of Producers of natural spirits Serbian rakija, the EU protects the names of beverages by allowing the prefix Serbian. In Serbia there are 10,000 private producers of rakia. 2,000 are in the official register and only about a hundred cellar produces high-quality brandy. In 2007, the European Union awarded Serbia with trademarks for five different rakia brands (Slivovica, Dunjevaca, Orahovaca, Medovaca, Kruskovaca and Jabukovaca) making it the only country to have any trademarks for rakia brands.
Rakia is part of many special occasions, including baptisms, marriages, joining of the army, and visiting of friends. It is usually served before meals and with appetizers. It is mandatory to drink with roasted pig, lamb, or dried meat. At funerals, custom demands that a bottle of rakia be left on the grave of the deceased who liked to drink it, or at least to sprinkle a drop or two during the memorial service for peace of the person’s soul. People even offer the village doctor, policeman, judge, tax collector or minister a flask of rakia as a payment or a bribe. Many folk songs have been composed about rakia production and consumption. Due to the deep root rakia has in Serbian culture, historians have tended to announce Serbia as the real origin of rakia although the origins of the drink cannot be determined.
Bulgaria cites an old piece of pottery from the 14th century in which the word rakinja is inscribed. The country has taken measures to declare the drink as a national drink in the European Union to allow lower excise duty domestically but has yet yielded no concrete results.
Rakia is the most popular spirit in Croatia. Travarica (herbal rakia) is usually served at the beginning of the meal, together with dried figs. The Croatian Adriatic coast is known for a great variety of herbal grappas, some typical for only one island or group of islands. The island Hvar is famous for grappa with the addition of Myrtus (mrtina — bitter and dark brown). Southern islands, such as Korčula, and the city of Dubrovnik are famous for grappa with anise (aniseta), and in central Dalmatia the most popular rakia is grappa with nuts (orahovica). It's usually homemade, and served with dry cookies or dried figs. In the summer, it's very typical to see huge glass jars of grappa with nuts steeping in the liquid on every balcony, because the process requires the exposure of orahovica to the sun. In the northern Adriatic — mainly Istria — rakia is typically made of honey (medica) or mistletoe (biska). Biska, which is yellow-brown and sweet, is a typical liquor of Istria.
Raki (definite Albanian form: rakia) (a type of rakia) is a traditional Albanian drink. In the Ottoman Empire, until the 19th century, meyhanes would serve wine along with meze. Although there were many Muslims visited meyhane, sharia authorities could, at times, prosecute them. With the relatively liberal atmosphere of the Tanzimat Period (1839–1876), meyhane attendance among Muslims rose considerably and rakia became a favourite among meyhane-goers. By the end of the century, rakia took its current standard form and its consumption surpassed that of wine.
The Albanian raki is made from fermented and distilled fruit, particularly grapes and plums. Albanian raki contains no aniseed and its taste varies according to the fruit used to make it. The process of making rakia is exceptionally difficult, requiring much labor to mash the fruit, ferment it under the proper conditions, ensure the correct amount of fire under the distillery barrel and finally to infuse the final product with leaves from the apple tree.
In Bulgaria and Macedonia, rakia is generally served with shopska salad, milk salad, pickled vegetables (turshiya) or other salads, which form the first course of the meal. Muskatova rakia is made from Muscat grapes, while the preparation method of dzhibrova rakia is the same as for Italian Grappa.
Another popular way of serving is "cooked" (Croatian: kuhana, Serbian: kuvana or grejana, Bulgarian: греяна (grejana), Macedonian: греена or топла) rakia (also called Šumadija tea in Serbia), which is heated and sweetened with honey or sugar, with added spices. Heated in large kettles, it is often offered to visitors to various open-air festivities, especially in winter. It is similar to mulled wine, as weaker brands of rakia are used (or stronger ones diluted with water).
Although wine is the essential part of the Eucharist rite in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the region, rakia has found uses in certain religious and related rituals across the Balkans.
At the end of the Orthodox Christian burial service, at the exit from the cemetery, visitors are offered a piece of soda bread (pogača) and a glass of rakia. When drinking "for the soul" of the deceased, one spills some rakia on the ground, saying "For peaceful rest of the soul", before drinking the rest.
During wedding ceremonies, the groom's father goes around all tables and offers a glass of rakia to all guests, sharing a toast for the happiness of the newlyweds. In general, in the Balkans, rakia is offered to guests in one's home as a welcoming gesture.
There are many kinds of rakia, depending on the fruit it is produced from:
|Fruits||in Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia||in Macedonia||in Bulgaria|
|plum (slivovitz)||šljivovica, шљивовица||сливова (шливка) ракија (slivova rakija)||сливова (slivova)
|grapes||lozovača/loza, лозова ракија/лозовача/лоза||лозова ракија (lozova rakija)||гроздова (grozdova)
|komovica, комова ракија/комовица||комова ракија (komova rakija)||джиброва (dzhibrova)
|apricot||mareličarka, kajsijevača, кајсијевача||ракија од кајсии (rakija od kajsii)||кайсиева (kaysieva)|
|peach||rakija od breskve ракија од брескве||ракија од праски (rakija od praski)||прасковена (praskovena)|
|pear||kruškovača/vilijamovka, крушковача/виљамовка,крушка||вилјамовка (viljamovka), ракија од круши (rakija od kruši)||крушoва (krushova)|
|apple||jabukovača, јабуковача||јаболкова ракија (jabolkova rakija)||ябълкова (yabalkova)|
|mulberry||dudova rakija/dudovača/dudara, дудова ракија/дудовача/дудара||ракија од црница (rakija od crnica)||черничева (chernicheva)|
|quince||dunjevača, дуњевача||ракија од дуња (rakija od dunja)||дюлева (dyuleva)|
|fig||smokovača, смоквача||ракија од смоква (rakija od smokva)||смокинова (smokinova)|
|cherry||višnjevača||црешова ракија (crešova rakija)||черешова (chereshova)|
|mixed fruits||-||плодова (plodova)|
|with roses||ružica||гюлова (gyulova)|
|with herbs||travarica, траварица/trava||билна ракија (bilna rakija)||билкова (bilkova)|
|with juniper||klekovača, клековача|
|with walnuts||orahovača, ораховача/orahovica||ракија од орев (rakija od orev)||орехова (orehova)|
|with honey **||medenica, medovača, medica, zamedljana (very popular in Istria - a region in Croatia), медовача/medovača,||ракија со мед (rakija so med)||медена (medena)|
|with sour cherries||višnjevac/višnjevača, вишњевача||ракија од вишни (rakija od višni)||вишновка (vishnovka)|
|with anise||анасонка (anasonka)||анасонлийка (anasonliyka)|
* Kom or džibra is the fruity grape mash that remains after winemaking. It contains up to 5.5 litres of pure alcohol per 100 kg, and at least 40% dry matter.
** Not to be confused with mead, which is made solely of honey.
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