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Rakija (pronounced rakiya) is a fruit brandy popular in the Balkans. It is widely considered to be а national drink of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The alcohol content of rakia is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50% to 80% but going as high as 90% at times).
The origins of rakia are unknown. It is considered that 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. A team of archaeologists led by Philip Petrunov have recently discovered, near the fortress "Lyutitsa" (in Ivaylovgrad), a fragment of a distillation container for the production of rakia. According to experts discovery dates back to the XI century AD and this proves that rakia is produced and consumed in Bulgaria in the XI century AD. Unknown Bulgarian nobleman from Veliko Tarnovo, in the XIV century wrote on a glass that drinking rakia during the Church Holiday. In support of that rakia in Bulgaria was known before the invasion of the Ottomans is justification of the Turkish commander Lala Sahin to the Ottoman sultan that in 1382 failed to conquer Sofia, because "the defense of the city was entrusted to strong, healthy Bulgarians "with mustaches" that before battle drank rakia and so became invincible".
Many countries produce similar fruits brandies which are listed here by their local names:
- Albania: rakia
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: rakija
- Bulgaria: ракия
- Croatia: rakija, žganica, šnaps
- Kosovo: rakia, rrakia
- Macedonia: ракија
- Montenegro: ракија/rakija
- Romania: rachiu/răchie, ţuică, palincă
- Serbia: ракија/rakija
- Slovenia: šnops, domače žganje
Common flavours are šljivovica, produced from plums, kajsija, produced from apricots, or grozdova/lozova (raki rrushi in Albania and Kosovo), or "Loza" in Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia 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, 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 30 to 50 ml.
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 tsipouro in Greece is 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.
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. 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, hence contradicting the idea that rakiya production only began in the 16th century, some historians believe this indicates that rakiya did originally come from Bulgaria.
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.
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 (Sljivovica, Dunjevaca, Orahovaca, Medovaca, Kruskovaca and Jabukovaca) making it the only country to have any trademarks for rakia brands.
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).
|This section does not cite any references (sources). (February 2015)|
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||mastika, мастика||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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