Everything you wanted to know about rakija
The water of life, the Firewater, water from the vine, the spirit of spices, and many other names are related to it, rakija. In European countries, there is a centuries-old tradition of production and consumption of alcoholic beverages, with the same or similar way of making, so in England, it is called gin, brandy, rum, while in Germany is schnapps, in Russia and Poland vodka, in Scandinavia aquavit.
Until the 15th century, rakija was considered a cure and was produced by alchemists and pharmacists who believed that rakija was the elixir of youth and that it prolonged life. Louis IV approved of rakija as a pleasure drink in 1514 when he gave vinegar producers the privilege of producing rakija too. Since the 16th century, the popularity of rakija has grown with the increasing number of wars and epidemics. In the war with the Netherlands, the English gave their soldiers rakija in 1581. In Asia, rakija began to be consumed as a drink in the 13th century. In 1297, Marco Polo and the missionary Rubruck recorded that Mongolian nomads used to drink fermented mare’s milk – kumis and, by further distillation turned it into milk rakija – karakumis, and further on they increased its strength by double distillation. Distillation is a process that was known to ancient Greeks. Aristotle believed that even seawater could be turned into a drink with this process. Later, distillation was used until the 13th and 14th centuries by alchemists to produce perfume. There is no home in Serbia without a host and good rakija.
Types of rakija in the Balkans
Rakija became popular all around Europe and became part of national identities of European countries. For good morning, good night, as an aperitif, for stupes, for high temperature – a bottle of rakija is an indispensable part in every household. Plum rakija, or slivovitz, is a Serbian national feature. Another commonly used fruit is grapes (most widely in Bulgaria and Montenegro), followed by apricots, apples, figs and quince. Plum or grape rakija is sometimes mixed after distillation with other ingredients such as herbs, honey, sour cherries and herbaceous fruits. “Prepečenica” is a double-distilled rakija where the alcohol content sometimes exceeds 60%. “Brlja” is a popular name for cheap rakija of poor quality. Rakija is usually colourless, except when other ingredients are added to it. Some types of rakija are kept in wooden barrels (oak) for added aroma and golden colour. It is recommended to drink rakija from special small cups with a capacity of 0.3 to 0.5 dl.
The common strength of rakija is 40%, and the domestic ones go up to 60%. The strength of rakija is determined in volume percentage and grades. It is determined by the amount of alcohol expressed in parts of volume or by volume percentage, written as % vol. In everyday speech, alcohol is often expressed in grades. Conversion can be easily done using an equation: 1 grade = 2.46 vol%. Most practically and fastest, the strength of rakija is determined using an alcoholmeter.