Balkan people like to say: „Rakija – connecting people“ as a joke that originated from a commercial for the Nokia cell phones. Rakija is considered among the common folk as a jet fuel of southern Slavs, and their favorite drink. It is pronounced (/rɑːkiːɑː/ RA-ki-ya), but other Slavs have different names for it. So what is Rakija actually? Well, it is a fruit made moonshine, a type of brandy or spirit. Usually it is made from plums and that kind of rakija is called „Sliwowitz“, but there are other variants. Rakija can be made from apples, pears, apricot, peach, mulberry, rose, grapes and more types of fruits that can be found in the Blakan region. The most important thing in making rakija is that the fruit involved must be very juicy and ripe. Some variations are considered a feminine drink like walnut rakija and sour cherry rakija, because they have a distinctive sweetness and strong screaming colors. A common color of rakija is clear yellow with a shade of dark or a completely clear like Vodka, just it will knock you down a lot faster.
If you look at the Slavs as a whole, you would say we run on Vodka, but the South runs on rakija and Balkan folk are very proud of it. Normal Slav can get drunk from 6 shots of Vodka, but only 2 from Rakija, so I’ll let you imagine how strong that is. Some Russian tourists came to the Balkan in the 80′ and had a good time there, having parties in Serbia, sunbaths at the Croatian sandy coasts, eating classic Bosnian „burek“ and buying souvenir from the shores of Montenegro, but when they were introduced with Rakija, they wished they were dead – so a saying was made in that honor. It goes: Yesterday I drank with Russians and I wanted to die, but today I drink with Balkans and I wished I died yesterday.
Measurements are very hard to guess and tell the correct ones, because every family has their own way of making this booze. My family has its own recipe to make a good Rakija, so I will speak of that. This is Serbian way. First you need the minimum 200 kilograms of plums. We pick them from the ground because those are the ripest ones, then we shake the tree and collect the rest of plum. This cargo is stored in huge barrels with the lid half way closed, because it needs air so it will not explode from the fermentation gases. After few months of natural fructose fermentation, you will end up with a plum mush material we call „komina“.
(this one is made from grapes)
Second thing you need is a distillery apparatus, made out of 3 parts: the „kazan“ (caldron with a brass coating), a cooler and a pipe. This distillery device is commonly called „the church“ because a lot of blessing is involved in saluting the good year in the field and a bountiful harvest. Some people will refer to the distillery as „happy machine“ because it produces joy and happiness to a lot of men and family members.
(my father making rakija known as “lozovača”)
Third thing you’ll need is a lot of firewood. The plums are poured into the cauldron and the lid is placed over it, then the pipe is installed on both parts connecting the boiler and the cooler, then the whole thing is being sealed with a mixture of the corn and grain dough. The fire is placed under the caldron and the waiting can begin. After an hour the first drops of rakija will form on the cooler’s end as the hot steam from the caldron travels through the brass pipe and gets in contact with the cold area of the cooler which is filled with water.
That is called a first run. The first run lasts for a few hours and you will get around 40 liters of rakija. This liquid is not drinkable, because of the high percentage of alcohol and it will behave like an acid and not the way you would expect. Inhaling the vapor from this liquid will spin your head faster than the rollercoaster and will put you to a 10 hour sleep coma.
After the first run comes the second run, which is a little different from the first one. You repeat the first run, but you add those 40 liters you just made and you add few white corns (corn flour is made only from the white corns, not from the yellow ones which are used to feed the cattle). When the new drops of rakija start pouring from the cooler, you will have a proper rakija that is now ready to be used. This product is called „prepečenka“ or in English „double baked“. From the second run, you can make the final product of 30 liters of fine rakija. If you continue the distillation any further, it will just make the rakija weaker than it should be and it will have a watery taste and lose its sharp bite.
This part comes very easy. You just chug the first shot, then the second is used for sipping and enjoying the conversation with your smiling friends. Initial taste is like trying the cold oil, but when you swallow it, the magic begins. Firstly it will give you a burning sensation in your mouth walls, and then the tongue will slightly start to sizzle. Aroma of the fruit will now start to amplify in your mouth and a strong scent of liquor will rise to your nose and tingle. I have to warn you, because you will feel every drop of the liquid slowly running down your throat and travel to your stomach with a piercing sharp pain like you just ate a razor. After the third shot, you can kiss your legs goodbye because you will not be using those in the next 5 hours.
There are no rules of when the rakija is used, because it is used all of the time. Every ceremony in Balkan has a bottle of rakija somewhere, just look it up. During the winter, Balkan people like to make boiled rakija and drink it like a tea to warm up. This sort of thing is better known as “Šumadijski čaj” (shumadia tea), and its vapor will make you drunk in a minute.
I was introduced with rakija when I was 7 years old, and we made our fresh batch. When my father stored the rakija in big oak barrels, he gave me some to try, only if I wouldn’t tell it to my mother. Now, I drink it every morning for good luck and often share it with my guests. Fun fact: If you see a Coca-Cola bottle with a Fanta cap on, it is most definitely rakija inside.
If you get to know a Balkan boy or girl, ask them for rakija, because they don’t travel without one.