Raki, or Tsikoudia, a strong spirit made from crushed grape skins!
The Cretan distilled spirit known as Raki or Tsikoudia is on the whole homemade by individual families for their own consumption on Crete. Many families have their own Still or share a distillery with their often large extended families. The Raki is made in the Autumn after the grape harvest when the vines have been pruned.
Long before recycling and being ‘Greener’ became fashionable the Cretans used everything that nature provided with nothing going to waste – and they still do! The vineyard provided wood for the fireplace, vine leaves for cooking (as used in dolmades for example) and the grapes used as a fresh fruit or sun dried as sultanas or made into wine. Some of the grape "must" is cooked down until it becomes dark and syrupy grape molasses and is known as Petimezi. The Petimezi is then kept as a pantry staple and used in Greek pastries.
The remaining crushed grape skins comprising seeds, pulp and stems are distilled to produce Tsikoudia or Raki. The distillation process often taking 3 hours or so and becomes a celebration in which family and friends bring food and sample the drink as it is being made. The Cretans are never afraid to party!
Some Raki makers will add wild herbs such as Thyme or Rosemary, others will sweeten the clear liquid with honey making it a rich golden colour. This sweetened, very palatable blend of Raki and honey is known as "Rakomena".
Known by visitors as firewater, moonshine or loopy juice, Raki should be drunk sensibly as over indulgence could lead to a severe hangover! It is served in small decanters or carafes with a small shot glass. It is always served with food, often in the form of titbits of Feta cheese, tomatoes, olives, cucumbers or cooked beans or rice dishes on small plates.
Throughout the near and middle east, different countries have similar sounding and tasting drinks to that of Cretan Raki. Names such as Araka, Araki, Ariki or Turkish Raki are used to identify the distilled spirit derived from grape must.
During the Turkish occupation of Crete the name Raki was given to the local drink of Tsikoudia, since there were some similarities. Now either name is used to label this strong, clear alcoholic beverage. A stronger, red coloured variation of it is called Mournoraki and is distilled from mulberries.
Not to be confused with Ouzo or Tsipouro, this string spirit is a very Cretan drink. Ouzo is produced traditionally and exclusively in Greece and has a distinctive aniseed flavour. Tsipouro is produced in some Greek regions and is very similar to Raki.
Claimed by the locals to promote a long and healthy life and to aid digestion, it's a ‘must try’ drink. Yammas!
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