Some of you from the States might not have heard of or experienced rakia. I’ll try to explain it. Here in Bulgaria they try to say that rakia is a type of brandy, but I tend to disagree. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s very tasty stuff, but it’s powerful. Think of the most potent drink you’ve ever had, and then combine it with jet fuel, and you might come close to getting the same results.
Regardless, it’s a very important part of Bulgarian culture, and is found at most dinner tables on most nights, sipped straight up with Shopska Salat as the chaser. My host family explained that the drink is regarded as the national drink of Bulgaria, and that if possible every Bulgarian family brews their own rakia. I’m pretty sure that not every household brews their own, but I’ve seen for myself that it is indeed very prevalent, and is a source of pride for many Bulgarian families, each recipe being unique to each family. A lot of the rakia here in BG is made from grapes, but my host family’s is brewed from a mixture of apples and plums. I’ve also heard of rakia made from peaches, raspberries, and a variety of other fruits.
The process started long ago, when I walked through the gates of my house to find my host family smashing fruit with a hammer and pouring it into large plastic vats.
A few days later the fermentation process was well underway, and the vats were locked away in a shed for about a month.
This weekend the vats were dragged out of the shed again, and an apparatus was built to “cook” the rakia. Here one doesn’t distill alcohol, but “cooks” it.
We got a fire going, and the end result traveled up out of the vat, through the “serpent” for cooling, and out into a bucket, from which it was transferred into containers for storage.
After testing the ABV, which clocked in at around 50%, the new rakia was locked away, not to be touched again for a year (though my host father snuck a few sips to check if “everything had gone alright”).
This means that we also finally got to crack open last year’s batch, which everyone around apparently simultaneously agreed is much better than the previous year’s. I didn’t detect much of a difference. I did however have an awesome time watching this whole process happen, and I’m pretty sure everyone is excited to have rakia for another year. Since the winter is creeping up on us, there was also talk of a related drink called gran rakia, which is heated and blended with sugar. Sounds magical.
Until next time… cheers and na’zdrave!