It’s always interesting to find out about liquors that are hugely popular in other countries – and yet, somehow, most of us in the United States have never heard of it. One of these libations that we’re just beginning to hear about is called Rakia (sometimes also referred to as Rakija or Rachiu) and it’s considered to be the national drink of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
Rakia can be traced back to 14th century Bulgaria. It’s a clear spirit made from distilled, fermented fruit and is known for having a very high alcohol content – anywhere from 80 to 190 proof. There are a ton of different kinds of Rakia because you can basically use any fruit you want to make it. Popular fruits include grapes, plums, apricots, pears, apples, cherries and figs. After the fruit, you can add ingredients like roses, herbs, juniper, walnuts, honey and anise.
Serving Rakia to guests is considered to be a sign of hospitality and each person is offered a tiny glassful served neat. It can also be served “cooked,” which means they sweeten the Rakia with honey or sugar, add spices, and then heat it in a large kettle. A lot of times, it will be offered at various open-air festivities in the colder months.
Rakia isn’t the type of alcoholic beverage that is easy to find in the United States just yet. You can buy it online, but you may need to search a little harder in local specialty liquor stores. It’s also probably not going to be in your friendly neighborhood bar (unless it’s a Bulgarian, Croatian or Serbian establishment), but you may see it pop up in trendier bars in major cities. Ambar in Washington D.C. serves Balkan cuisine and drinks; yes, there is an entire separate menu just for Rakia. Check out their Rakia menu to get an idea for how many different ways it can be used and how many types there are.
If you can’t find Rakia near you and you’re feeling a little industrious, you can always try your hand at making your own. It tastes amazing when it’s homemade and there are so many variations that it is impossible to make a bad batch.