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Rakia

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Rakia (also Rakija) is fruit brandy that is produced by distillation of fermented fruit; it is a popular beverage throughout the Balkans, Italy, and France. Its alcohol content is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger (typically 50% to 60%). Prepečenica is double-distilled rakia which has an alcohol content that may exceed 60%.

Left: Plum rakia from the region of Elena, Bulgaria.

Rakia is considered to be the national drink among some of the South Slavic and Albanian peoples. Common flavours are slivovitz, produced from plums, Kaisijeva, produced from apricots and grozdova (also called lozovača), made from grapes. Fruits less commonly used are peaches, apples, pears, cherry, figs, and quinces. Popular home made variants in Bulgaria and Serbia is rakia produced from mixed fruits. In the Istrian and Dalmatian regions of Croatia, rakia tends to be home-made exclusively from grapes, where the drink is also known locally as trapa or grappa (the latter name also being used in Italy). Plum and grape rakia are sometimes mixed with other ingredients, such as herbs, honey, sour cherries and walnuts, after distillation.

Normally, rakia is colorless, unless herbs or other ingredients are added. Some types of rakia are kept in wooden barrels (oak or mulberry) for extra aroma and a golden colour.

In Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia, rakia is generally served with shopska salad, milk salad, pickled vegetables (turshiya) or other salads, which form the first course of the meal. Muskatova rakiya is made from Muscat grapes, while the preparation method of dzhibrova rakiya is the same as for Italian Grappa, which is made with all and any kind of fruit.

In Croatia, travarica (herbal rakia) is usually served at the beginning of the meal, together with dried figs. The Croatian Adriatic coast is known for a great variety of herbal grappas, some typical for only one island or group of islands. The island Hvar is famous for grappa with the addition of myrrh (mrtina Ч bitter and dark brown). Southern islands, such as Korčula, and the city of Dubrovnik are famous for grappa with anise (aniseta), and in central Dalmatia the most popular rakia is grappa with nuts (orahovica). It's usually homemade, and served with dry cookies or dried figs. In the summer, it's very typical to see huge glass jars of grappa with nuts steeping in the liquid on every balcony, because the process requires the exposure of orahovica to the sun. In the northern Adriatic Ч mainly Istria Ч rakia is typically made of honey (medica) or mistletoe (biska). Biska, which is yellow-brown and sweet, is a typical liquor of Istria.

Another popular way of serving is "cooked" (Croatian: kuhana, Serbian: kuvana or grejana, Bulgarian: гре€на (grejana), Macedonian: греена or топла) rakia (also called Šumadija tea in Serbia), which is heated and sweetened with honey or sugar, with added spices. Heated in large kettles, it is often offered to visitors to various open-air festivities, especially in winter. It is similar to mulled wine, as weaker brands of rakia are used (or stronger ones diluted with water).

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