Rakija – Serbian National Drink
Rakija belongs to the group of spirits. It was brought to Serbia by the Turks during the 4th century, and it has remained woven into the tradition of our people to this day. It is the most popular alcoholic drink in our area – good old natural Serbian rakija. Its properties are similar to those of vodka and brandy; our experts believe that it can even challenge whiskey.
How Is Rakija Made?
The process of distilling rakija is relatively simple, so every rural household has an opportunity to make their own rakija. The most frequent is plum rakija – the famous Serbian plum brandy – slivovitz. When plums have been harvested, they are put into barrels for fruit to ferment. This process takes several months. After that, this mash is distilled in a pot still. This produces brandy, commonly known as “soft rakija”. Such rakija contains a lower percentage of alcohol. In order to increase the percentage of alcohol and improve quality, “soft rakija” is distilled for the second time, producing double-distilled, so-called, “ljuta rakija” – strong brandy. People measure it by alcoholmeters, in grades.
HOW DO WE MAKE RAKIJA?
We do not collect fruits but harvest them at full maturity when the concentration of fruit sugar is highest which is determined by the highly skilled staff of our Distillery. Fruits are harvested by hand and put into crates, and they come into the distillery packed in such a way. Each fruit is washed, stalks and seeds removed and then placed in a fermentation vessel or as some say “to boil”. The fermentation process itself is monitored on a daily basis to prevent overfermentation. At the right time, the mash is put into a pot still, and at some temperature, the process of distillation or “baking” of rakija begins.
When the distillate starts leaking, that first rakija, so-called “firstborn” is removed as well as the last, so-called “patoka”. When good rakija starts and when it finishes, when it is the best – is very difficult to determine. This is precisely where the quality of rakija is determined because it is very important to eliminate everything that is harmful to human health. Then we redistill the same brandy again and remove “the firstborn” and “patoka” again. Each type of rakija produced has no colour and strength is about 75% alcohol. When after a few months we bring the alcohol level to a desired limit, it is only then that we pour such rakija in oak usually, in order to get colour and improve its aroma and taste.
But we do not keep all types of rakija in wooden barrels. Some of them are waiting for their “maturity” in stainless steel vessels. Before bottling, rakija is first filtered and only then bottled. Each of these operations requires a great deal of knowledge and experience, and it is clear that new technological advances are certainly helpful to our top experts. This is a general process for producing rakija, and it is not as simple as it seemed at first. Each type of fruit is specific in itself and producing rakija from different fruits differs in small details.
The production capacity of Zarić Distillery is around one million litters per year. We put only the highest quality fruit in rakija. Plum rakija is our country’s trademark, and 75% of plums go to rakija. Our Queen is the only brand with a geographical origin, which means that plums that we use are of the best and consistent quality. Cheers!
Rakija is more than just an alcoholic beverage
Precisely because rakija has been made in almost every rural household for centuries, it is more than just an alcoholic beverage. It has been widely used over time. In some ways, it has become a tool of prestige because the better rakija is, the more famous and sought after it is. It has found a place in traditional medicine for treating high fever and improving blood circulation. During the wars that hit the Balkans in the past, when there were no medicines and painkillers, our people used brandy as an anaesthetic and disinfectant. Our traditional medicine has recognized rakija as a medicine (in small quantities, of course).
Rakija also has a certain economic role for rural households because it can be preserved for a long period even in modest conditions. It is a kind of a bank, that is, a commodity that can always be sold, thus supporting the home budget.
Types of natural rakija most commonly made in our area:
How to recognize good rakija
It has to be clear. The aroma of the type of fruit from which it has been made of must be felt. Good genuine slivovitz has a dark circle at the bottom of a glass when placed in the light. And to be good, rakija must be stored or aged in a quality oak barrel. Rakija which spent some time in an oak barrel has light fruit notes and notes of medicinal herbs. The freshness of grass and mountain air simply emerges from such rakija. The longer it stays in an oak barrel, rakija gets a thick, creamy texture. It is possible to recognize a dozen of aromas in rakija taste that associate to nature. Experts say these premium rakijas made with care, knowledge and love, are very much like Caribbean quality rum or whiskey from a mountainous part of Scotland.
Traditionally, rakija is served in small rakija glasses. It is drunk as an aperitif with starters. It is drunk on all occasions.
Today, it is very important that our rakija is presented at one of the European fairs to let rakija, or Serbian brandy, return to the world market again.