Rakia, Bulgaria's National Drink - History, Traditions, and Culture

Rakia is Bulgaria’s national drink. Despite the wide availability of rakia in the Balkan region, the Bulgarian variant of the stiff drink and the culture surrounding it are completely unique. Let’s check out the main tenants of the Bulgarian rakia experience.

Bulgaria and rakia

Why is rakia Bulgaria’s national drink? To answer this question, we’ll have to look at the local produce and the Bulgarian landscape. Rakia is usually made out of grapes or plums but is also boiled out of cherry plums, apricots, pears, quinces, cherries, peaches, and other types of fruit that’s available in Bulgaria.

The process of making rakia doesn’t require much specialized equipment or long times for fermentation. That’s why many Bulgarians have the chance to make their own rakia. The drink is widely available in all restaurants, grocery stores, and alcohol shops. There’s a wide variety of brands, prices, and ingredients when it comes to rakia. You’ll have to try out the different types and see which ones you prefer.

Finding homemade rakia can be hard and the quality can vary widely. In general, it can be stronger than the ones you’d find at industrial distilleries. Retail rakia usually has around 40% alcohol content, while the homemade one is around 50%, but it can reach higher concentrations, depending on the methods used.

History of rakia in Bulgaria

Most Bulgarians would consider rakia to be completely Bulgarian. The drink is heavily ingrained in our national culture. However, as with many Balkan traditions, foods, and drinks, rakia has its variants in all neighboring countries. The word itself is speculated to have Turkish origin due to the Ottoman rule of Bulgaria.

However, that doesn’t rule out Bulgaria as the home country of rakia. Archeologists found vessels for distilling the drink that date to 11th century. Rakia bears quite a lot of similarities with the Italian drink grappa, which traces its origins to the times of the Roman Empire, but the two drinks are distinct.

Bulgaria’s national identity and rakia.

As mentioned above, many Bulgarians enjoy homemade rakia. The custom of boiling the drink at home has survived the widespread availability of industrial alcohol distilleries. Rakia is an essential part of any Bulgarian wedding, party, and funeral.

This wide availability of homemade brews has raised some tensions with the government and created accusations of alcohol contraband. Needless to say, the Bulgarian people aren’t thrilled to be told what to do or to abandon a tradition much older than the government bureaucrats that want to stop it.

 So, by all means, sip a drink of rakia next time you're in Bulgaria. It may tell you a thing or two about the people and traditions of this country, what they enjoy, and what they retained throughout the ages.

Alex Dimchev

Alex Dimchev is a writer, editor, and weapons master for EUscoop.com

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