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Rakia, Rakija or Raki (/ -, /,), is the collective term for fruit spirits (or fruit brandy) popular in the Balkans. The alcohol content of rakia is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50%).
Fruit spirits are known by similar names in many languages of the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian: rakija / ракија [ˈrǎkija]); Albanian: rakia; Bulgarian: ракия, romanized: rakiya; Macedonian: ракија, romanized: rakija; Turkish: rakı (/rɑːˈkiː/, /rɑːˈkuː/, /rɑːˈkɜːr/). Similar drinks include sadjevec in Slovenia, 'ţuică (or palincă) in Romania, and pálenka in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Common flavours are šljivovica and țuică, produced from plums, kajsija, produced from apricots, or grozdova/lozova in Bulgaria, raki rrushi in Albania and Kosovo[a], lozovača/komovica in Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina all produced from grapes, the same as "Zivania" in Cyprus. Fruits less commonly used are peaches, apples, pears, cherries, figs, blackberries, and quince. Similar spirits are produced in Romania, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria 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, thanë (carnelian cherry), 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, Russia, North Macedonia, and Serbia is rakia produced from mixed fruits. In the Istrian and Dalmatian regions of Croatia, rakija tends to be home-made exclusively from grapes, where the drink is also known locally as "lozovača" or "loza".
It is supposed to be drunk from special small glasses which hold from 30 to 50 ml.
Greek ouzo (from grape) and tsipouro (from pomace), Turkish rakı (from sun-dried grapes) and arak in Lebanon and Levant region differ from rakia as they are redistilled with some herbs (commonly anise). Some tsipouro in Greece is made without anise in the same manner as pomace rakia (or pomace brandy). "Boğma rakı" in Turkey (common name of the domestic raki which is produced at homes and villages) is similar to rakia in the Balkans.
Albania & Kosovo
Raki (definite Albanian form: rakia) (a type of rakia) is a traditional drink in Albania and a popular drink in Kosovo. Until the 19th century, meyhanes would serve wine or meze. Rakia is deeply connected to the Albanian tradition and as such it is produced everywhere in Albania and Kosovo, sometimes professionally and sometimes in an artisanal way. Skrapar is a region of Albania known not only for its hospitality and tradition but also for the production of rakia. In fact, Skrapar spirit is very popular not only in Albania but also in Europe. In every part of Albania, Skrapar spirit is always required in all festive ceremonies, as the best alcoholic beverage. Grapes are grown in pergolas that are arranged in tall trees such as oaks, plums, etc. Overall, the Skrapar area produces a strong spirit with an alcohol content of up to 45%. The most famous villages for the production of rakia are Zaberzan, Muzhakë, Rog, and Vendreshë. After the grapes are harvested, they are pressed and collected in wooden barrels. Today, plastic barrels are used. The crushed grape, at this stage is called bërsi, is left for 25 days, almost a month which is also the right time for fermentation. Proper grape fermentation is also understood by a strong characteristic odor. When this fermentation is achieved, the shoots are ready to produce spirit. The grape shoots are then boiled in tinned and sealed copper pots, the wood used must be oak wood which produces a lot of heat needed to turn the shoots into steam. These vapors then pass through copper pipes which pass through a cold container from where the opposite process is achieved, that of distillation, ie the return to liquid state of the vapors. At the bottom of the tube is placed a small nape from which the spirit flows into a glass or plastic container. The spirit is then stored in small glass bottles. Rakia is produced in a similar way in Kosovo, where it is usually served with meze. Orahovac is the best-known producer of rakia in the country and there is an annual festival dedicated to rakia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Rakija (Cyrillic: Ракија) is very popular and widespread in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like in its neighboring countries. A major contributing factor to the production of rakija in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the diversity and availability of fruit in the valley of the river Drina and the untouched and very often wild nature in the mountains. Even though the country suffered greatly from the war in the 90s, the traditional, old craft of producing rakija has managed to long survive throughout time and it is still widely practiced. The production of homemade rakija for private use is the most popular.
Bulgaria cites an old piece of pottery from the 14th century in which the word rakiya (Bulgarian: ракия) 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. During an archaeological study, Bulgarian archaeologists discovered an 11th-century fragment of a distillation vessel used for the production of rakiya. Due to the age of the fragment, contradicting the idea that rakiya production only began in the 16th century, some historians believe this indicates that rakiya did originally come from Bulgaria. The EU recognizes 12 brands of Bulgarian rakiya through the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) marks, which protect the name of products from a specific region that follow a traditional production process.
Rakija (Serbian Cyrillic: Ракија) is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Serbia. It is the national drink of Serbia. According to Dragan Đurić, President of the Association of Producers of Natural Spirits, the EU protects the names of beverages by allowing the prefix Serbian. In Serbia there are 10,000 private producers of rakija. Two thousand are on the official register and only about a hundred cellars produce high-quality spirit.
Rakija is the most popular spirit in Croatia. Travarica (herbal rakija) 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 rakija, some typical for only one island or group of islands. The island Hvar is famous for rakija with the addition of Myrtus (mrtina—bitter and dark brown). Southern islands, such as Korčula, and the city of Dubrovnik are famous for rakija with anise (aniseta), and in central Dalmatia the most popular rakija is rakija with walnuts (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 rakija 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—rakija is typically made of honey (medica) or mistletoe (biska). Biska, which is yellow-brown and sweet, is a typical liquor of Istria. In the interior of the country a spirit called šljivovica (shlivovitza) is made from plums, and one called viljamovka (viliam-ovka) is made from Williams pears. As is the case with Bulgaria, Croatia has EU Protected Geographical Indication of 3 rakija products, making it the only other country to have such protected rakija products.
Raki or rakı (//, //, //, Turkish pronunciation: [ɾaˈkɯ]) is an unsweetened, occasionally (depending on area of production) anise-flavoured, alcoholic drink that is popular in Iran, Turkic countries, and in the Balkan countries as an apéritif. It is often served with seafood or meze. It is comparable to several other alcoholic beverages available around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, such as pastis, ouzo, sambuca, arak and aguardiente. In Turkey, it is considered a national drink.
Rakija (Macedonian: Ракија) is one of the most popular spirits in North Macedonia, with the most common types are yellow and white grape rakija.Tikves winery makes the most famous rakija which is made in Kavadarci. A lot of Macedonian people make homemade white rakija with natural process from grape distillate and add anise which gives sweetness. In industrial production, the percentage of alcohol in rakija is between 40 and 45 percent, but in domestic production, this percentage can be more than 60.
Romania and Moldova
In Romania and Moldova, the related word rachiu or rachie is used to refer to a similar alcoholic beverage as these neighboring countries, often a strong fruit-based spirit, usually from grapes. However, the more commonly used terms for similar popular beverages are țuică and palincă; țuică in particular is prepared only from plums. Additionally, the regional term vinars (literally "burnt-wine") in Romania, and divin in Moldova, can refer to brandy in general as well.
In North Macedonia it often served with pristine mountain sheep cheese, variety of salads such as shopska salad cabbage salad, yogurt and cucumber salad, root salads, olives dipped in olive oil, as well as yellow cheese kashkaval and less commonly with pork roast or dried pork meats.
In Bulgaria, rakiya is generally served with shopska salad, yogurt salad, pickled vegetables (turshiya) or other salads, which form the first course of the meal. Muskatova rakiya is made from Muscat grapes, while the preparation method of dzhibrova rakiya is the same as for Italian grappa.
In summer, rakiya is usually served ice cold, while in winter it's served "cooked" (Serbian: кувана / kuvana or грејана / grejana, Bulgarian: греяна (greyana), Croatian: kuhana, rakiya (also called Šumadija tea in Serbia). Rakiya 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 rakiya 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 the 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 Bulgaria||in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia||in Greece|
|plum (slivovitz)||сливова (slivova) сливовица (slivovitsa)||šljivovica, шљивовица, шливка, сливка||Κουμπλόρακο (Ρακί κορόμηλου) / Raki koromilou|
|лозова (lozova), lozovača/loza, лозова ракија/лозовача/лоза||Σταφυλόρακη (ρακί σταφυλής) / raki stafylis|
|komovica, комова ракија/комовица||Τσίπουρο-Τσικουδιά (ρακί στεμφύλων σταφυλής) / tsipouro-tsikoudia (raki stemfylon stafylis)|
|apricot||кайсиева (kaysieva)||mareličarka, kajsijevača, кајсијевача||Ρακί βερίκοκου / raki verikokou|
|peach||прасковена (praskovena)||rakija od breskve, ракија од брескве, breskavica||Ρακί ροδάκινου / raki rodakinou|
|pear||крушoва (krushova)||kruškovača/vilijamovka, крушковача/виљамовка, крушка||Ρακί αχλαδιού / raki achladiou|
|apple||ябълкова (yabalkova)||jabukovača, јабуковача||Ρακί μήλου / raki milou|
|mulberry||черничева (chernicheva)||dudova rakija/dudovača/dudara, дудова ракија/дудовача/дудара||Ρακί απο σκάμνια, ρακί μούρων / raki apo skamnia, raki mouron|
|quince||дюлева (dyuleva)||dunjevača, дуњевача||Ρακί κυδωνιού / raki kydoniou|
|fig||смокинова (smokinova)||smokovača, смоквача||Συκόρακη, Ρακί σύκου / Sykoraki, Raki sykou|
|cherry||черешова (chereshova)||trešnjevača||Ρακί κερασιού / raki kerasiou|
|mixed fruits||плодова (plodova)||—||Ρακί φρούτων / raki frouton|
|with sour cherries||вишновка (vishnovka)||višnjevac/višnjevača, вишњевача||Βυσνόρακι, Ρακί βύσσινου / Visnoraki, raki vyssinou|
|with roses||гюлова (gyulova)||ružica||—|
|with herbs||билкова (bilkova)||travarica, траварица/trava||—|
|with bilberries||—||borovnička, боровничка||—|
|with juniper||klekovača, клековача||—|
|with honey **||медена (medena)||medenica, medovača, medica, medenjača, zamedljana (very popular in Istria—a region in Croatia), медовача/medovača,||Ρακόμελο / rakomelo|
|with anise||анасонлийка (anasonliyka)||mastika, мастика||Τσίπουρο με γλυκάνισο / tsipouro me glykaniso|
* Kom or komina 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.
Notes and references
- Kosovo is the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia. The Republic of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. The two governments began to normalise relations in 2013, as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement. Kosovo is currently recognized as an independent state by 97 out of the 193 United Nations member states. In total, 112 UN member states are said to have recognized Kosovo at some point, of which 15 later withdrew their recognition.
- R., Ivan (January 23, 2016). "Rakia – Everything you wanted to know about this drink". slavorum.org.
- "Encyclopædia Britannica". Retrieved 4 September 2013.
- "Islam in Kosovo Proves no Bar to Alcohol". Retrieved 14 January 2021.
- Music of the Sirens, Inna Naroditskaya, Linda Phyllis Austern, Indiana University Press, p.290
- "Komuna Skrapar". Retrieved 8 April 2019.
- "Rrushi, vera dhe rakia iu presin "n'konak" të Rahovecit". Retrieved 14 January 2021.
- Veselina Angelova, Liliya Tsatcheva (October 10, 2011). "A Bulgarian Archeologist Has Proved It - Rakia is Bulgarian". Trud. Archived from the original on January 15, 2012.
- "Bulgarian Archaeologists Discover 11th Century Rakia Distillation Vessel". www.novinite.com. 2015-07-27.
- "eAmbrosia - European Commission". Ec.europa.eu. 2018-10-24. Retrieved 2020-03-14.
- "Nema šljivke bez podrške". Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "Rakia, The Serbian National Drink". Sick Chirpse. Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "Brandy history - Rakia Bar". Retrieved 28 September 2014.
- "Rakija". BELGRADIAN by KIELO. 2011.
- "Hrvati najradije od svih žestokih pića piju rakiju". Večernji list (in Croatian). 28 July 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
- Łuczaj, Łukasz; Jug-Dujaković, Marija; Dolina, Katija (November 2019). "Plants in alcoholic beverages on the Croatian islands, with special reference to rakija travarica". Journal of EJournal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicinethnobiology and Ethnomedicine. 15 (51).
- Soileau, Mark. "Spreading the Sofra: Sharing and Partaking in the Bektashi Ritual Meal." History of Religions 52, no. 1 (2012): 1-30. Accessed June 5, 2021. doi:10.1086/665961.
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