I heard something about the moonshine called “rakija“, which is strongly represented in the Balkans. So my questions are:

  • What kinds of rakija do exist?
  • How are the made?
  • How strong is rakija (how much alcohol does it have)?
  • If someone have any experiences drinking rakija, you may include it in your answer (optional).

Rakia or Rakija is the collective term for fruit brandy popular in the Balkans.

Wikipedia has this to say about Rakija:

Rakia or Rakija is the collective term for fruit brandy popular in the Balkans. The alcohol content of rakia is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50%).

Common flavours are šljivovica, produced from plums, kajsija, produced from apricots, or grozdova/lozova in Bulgaria (raki rrushi in Albania), or "lozovača" or "komovica" in Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia 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, Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, 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, rakija 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).

Normally, rakia is colorless, unless herbs or other ingredients are added. Some types of rakia are kept in wooden barrels (oak or mulberry) for extra aroma and a golden color.

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.

Slivovitz is a fruit brandy made from damson plums. The primary producers are Bosnia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. The usual proof of private-produced slivovice is over 50% of alcohol in the final product, commercially available mass-produced slivovice is proofed less.

Šljivovica is the national drink of Serbia in domestic production for centuries, and plum is the national fruit. Šljivovica has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Plum and its products are of great importance to Serbs and are a part of numerous traditional customs. A Serbian meal usually starts or ends with plum products and Šljivovica is served as an apéritif. A saying goes that the best place to build a house is where a plum tree grows the best. Traditionally, Šljivovica (commonly referred to as "rakija") is connected to a Serbian culture as a drink used at all important rites of passage (birth, baptism, military service, marriage, death, etc.). It is used in the Serbian Orthodox patron saint celebration, slava. It is used in numerous folk remedies, and is given certain degree of respect above all other alcoholic drinks. The fertile region of Šumadija in central Serbia is particularly known for its plums and Šljivovica. In 2004, over 400 000 litres of Šljivovica was produced in Serbia.

Here follows a few sources on how to make some Raki (Brandy).

Making Rakija – The Basics:

Making rakija involves five main stages: harvest, preparation for fermentation, fermentation, distillation and aging & storage.

How to Make Rakia (Ракия):

  1. Select a Fruit. Rakia is typically made from fruit, so the first thing you need to do is choose one. Grape and plum rakias are the two most traditional varieties, but Bulgarians make rakia out of whatever is readily available and cheap – apple, pear, peach, apricot, and cherry rakias are all popular in certain parts of the country. Other varieties are made less frequently.

  2. Pick and Gather the Fruit. Once you’ve selected a fruit, you have to “pick” it. Picking a fruit is often as simple as going to the market and buying as much of it as you need. But grape vines and fruit trees grow aplenty in Bulgaria, and most Bulgarians hand-pick the fruit they use to make rakia. With grapes, this means waiting until the right time in fall and bringing together friends and family for a grape-picking weekend. With other fruits, Bulgarians typically wait until the fruit is slightly overripe and then they shake the fruit out of the tree by vigorously shaking the branches and/or swatting at the branches with a long stick. Only the fruit ripe enough to make rakia falls out of the tree, after which it is all collected.

  3. Make Juice. Once you’ve collected the fruit, you mash it up, make juice, and dump it into a large barrel. The mashing process can be done by machine or the old-fashioned way – by foot.

  4. Measure the Sugar Content and Add Dissolved Sugar as Necessary. After the fruit has been mashed into juice, you measure the concentration of sugar in the juice with a saccharometer (захаромер). An ideal reading for making rakia is 23°, and a sugary water solution of approximately three pounds of sugar to every gallon of water should be added to the mash until the ideal sugar level is attained.

  5. Stir the Juice and Allow it to Ferment. The fruit juice will settle to the bottom, and the fruit skins will harden and float to the top of the mash. To make sure the juice ferments, it is necessary to push the fruit skins down and stir the juice once daily. The amount of time for proper fermentation depends in large part on the weather, but fermentation generally takes around three weeks. You might notice that thousands upon thousands of fruit flies are attracted to the mash. Don’t fret. Believe it or not, fruit flies assist greatly in the fermentation process. As a matter of fact, the Bulgarian word for fruit fly, муха-винарка, takes its name from the Bulgarian word for wine, вино, and literally translates to wine fly. Not surprisingly, more than one Bulgarian friend of mine hopes someday to be reincarnated as a муха-винарка.

  6. Distill the Fermented Juice. Distillation day is one of the most enjoyable days of the entire process; it is the day when rakia begins to flow. There isn’t much to the distillation process, although some people do a double distillation while others only do a single distillation. Regardless, the initial steps are the same. The mash is dumped into a still, which is sealed with a flour mixture to insure the still is air tight, and then a fire is lit under the still and distillation commences. Then you sit and wait. It typically takes about an hour before the first alcohol fumes begin to separate from the mash. This steam then makes its way through the sealed pipes before working its way through a cooling condenser and emerging as rakia. As the alcohol collects, measurements are taken. When I made rakia, we did a double distillation. On the first distillation, our rakia started with an alcohol content of around 60%, and we stopped the distillation when the alcohol content dropped to 20%. We then emptied and cleaned the still, dumped the alcohol we had produced into the still, and started a second distillation. On the second distillation, our rakia started with an alcohol content of 75%, and we stopped the distillation when the alcohol content dropped to 40%. The finished product was a potent 124 proof rakia (62% alcohol).

Distillation unit

  1. Age the Rakia. Once distillation is complete, your rakia is ready to drink. Some Bulgarians do nothing more, but most prefer to age and dilute their rakia to make it more pleasurable to drink. Rakia may be diluted by adding distilled water until the desired alcohol percentage is attained. It may be aged as long and in whatever manner you see fit, but most Bulgarians only age their rakia long enough to give it some color and a little taste. We aged our rakia in oak chips for a month and added distilled water to make it more drinkable at 90 proof (45% alcohol).

  2. Enjoy. Of course, the final step of the rakia making process is drinking it and sharing it with friends. Хайде наздраве!

How to Make Homemade Brandy (with pictures).

The Making of Traditional Croatian Rakia Brandy (YouTube video).

Making Rakia with a Bulgarian Master (Youtube Video).

I once tried some quince brandy (Srpska Trojka Quince Brandy) and although I found it a great drink, I also admit that because of the quince one has to have an acquired taste for it. Plum Rakia would definitely be my next one to try.

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