Georgian Chacha – 8 Facts About Georgia’s National Drink


It’s day 5 of my 3-week trip to Georgia, and I’m in need of caffeine.

I’m on a day trip to Sighnaghi with a bunch of other bloggers, and the late nights spent drinking copious amounts of Georgian wine are beginning to catch up with me.

When our guide announces that we have 45 minutes of free time, myself and a couple of the girls I’m with unanimously decide that it’s time to go in search of coffee.


Peering through the dusty windows of somewhere aptly-named ‘Bakery and CafĂ©,’ we gingerly push open the door and enter the dark and cramped room, where we find an old Georgian couple huddled around an electric heater.

On seeing us, they both spring to their feet (okay, I’m using the term ‘spring’ loosely here, but go with me) and beckon us inside, gesturing to the two tables that made up the space.

two girls smiling at a dinner table
My friends waiting patiently for our chacha!


After producing a plastic bottle of homemade red wine and giving us all a generous pour (who needs coffee anyway?), the woman gets a cheeky glint in her eye and points to one word on the sticky menu – chacha.

Today, it seemed, would be the day that I would finally get to try this legendary Georgian liquor.

After our affirmative (and slightly nervous) nods, the woman sends her husband out somewhere, presumably to retrieve the chacha from the family home, or that of a neighbour.

When he returns, 10 minutes later, with an unlabelled 5L plastic bottle, we exchange glances.

This is the real deal.

an elderly georgian lady
The Georgian lady who gave me my first chacha


Chacha – Georgia’s National Drink


With a winemaking tradition dating back 8000 years, grape cultivation and winemaking are inextricably linked to Georgian culture and identity.

With 525 endemic grape varieties, Georgia is proud of its rich and diverse wines, but wine isn’t the only thing that Georgians make with their grapes.

Chacha, Georgia’s national drink, is a liquor distilled from pomace (grape residue) that is left over from winemaking, and while it was first distilled over 1000 years ago, chacha is currently undergoing a bit of a revolution in Georgia.

Here’s everything you need to know about Georgian chacha, from where it comes from, to how it’s made, to the Georgian drinking traditions associated with the drink.


What is Georgian Chacha?


To understand chacha, you first need to understand a bit about Georgian winemaking.

Georgians make wine by placing crushed grapes into large clay containers (called Qvevri) that are buried in the earth to age.

The pulpy residue left over (made from seeds, skins, and stems) is known as pomace, and rather than throw it away, Georgians use it to make chacha.

The result is a clear pomace brandy, similar to grappa in Italy, tsipouro in Greece, or of course, Balkan rakija.

invitation to join the author's facebook group


8 Facts About Georgian Chacha


1. Chacha is traditionally home-brewed


Traditionally, chacha is home-brewed.

You can think of it as ‘Georgian moonshine,’ although unlike moonshine, distilling chacha is completely legal in Georgia.

Almost every family in Georgia (particularly in the countryside) makes their own chacha, and naturally, every family considers their chacha to be the best there is.


These skills have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries, and even Georgian teenagers today are keen learners of the tradition.

However, as chacha becomes more popular, professional distilleries and wineries have began to produce chacha on a commercial scale.

a row of chacha, oil and cognac bottles in georgia
Never trust an unlabelled soda bottle with a clear liquid in it – that isn’t water!


2. Chacha hasn’t always had the best reputation


Chacha has typically been associated with drunk farmers, and the spirit’s image has been that of a harsh ‘peasant liquor.’

However, modern proponents of the drink are trying to turn that around, with upscale distilleries, chacha cocktail bars, and dedicated chacha shops stocking high-end bottles of chacha popping up around the capital city of Tbilisi.

Perhaps the biggest move to put chacha on the global map was in 2012, when the ‘Chacha Tower’ was built in Batumi. The Chacha Tower is a huge clock tower with a fountain that spouts chacha instead of water for 15 minutes each week!


3. There are many varieties of chacha


While chacha is traditionally made from pomace, it may be also produced from unripe or wild grapes.

Villagers will also use other fruits to make chacha, including figs, oranges, mulberries, or even herbs like tarragon.

In the Kakheti region (in Sighnaghi, for example) chacha is often aged in oak barrels, giving it a caramel-like flavour and golden hue.

You can often find different flavours of chacha in local markets. The picture below was taken in Mtskheta.

different flavours of georgian chacha
Various flavours of chacha in Mtskheta


4. Chacha is very strong


While commercially-produced chachas remain around the 50% proof mark (which is still strong!), home-brews can go as high as 75% or more!

The ‘lighter’ chacha is often diluted with local spring water, and chacha connoisseurs say that if chacha is too strong, it loses its delicate aromas and isn’t pleasant to drink.

The strongest chachas smell like paint stripper or diesel, and are not for the faint-hearted!

georgian chacha
Chacha from the bakery in Sighnaghi


5. Chacha is believed to be good for you


In Georgia, chacha is believed to have many medicinal properties, and is said to cure a number of ailments!

Drinking chacha is said to clear the sinuses, remedy respiratory infections, and cure intestinal infections, as well as being used to strengthen immunity, improve digestion, and detoxify the body.

Georgians also believe that chacha can get rid of stomach aches and acne when topically applied!


6. There are several rituals practiced when drinking chacha


To most Georgians, chacha is an essential part of celebrations, including the traditional Georgian supra (feast).

At a supra, there is always a toastmaster, called a ‘tamada.’

The toastmaster has a responsibility of making toasts throughout the feast, usually with a poetic or philosophic flair. The toast may be to honour loved ones who have passed away, give thanks for friendship, health, success, or something else.


Oftentimes, Georgians will drink amber wine at supras, but chacha is by no means unheard of at such celebrations.

Another rule of drinking chacha is that you must sit up straight when drinking it, and many Georgians will drink three shots of chacha (to honour the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

a bottle og chacha at a dinner table
An unmarked bottle never contains water…


7. Chacha represents hospitality


It won’t surprise you to learn that chacha is associated with friendship and hospitality in Georgia, and it is commonly offered to guests as a welcoming gesture.

Indeed, you may well get offered chacha everywhere, from the gas station, to the side of the road, to a public bus!


This was a common occurrence for my friends and I when travelling in Georgia!

Incidentally, don’t be surprised if you get offered chacha in the morning – many people in Georgia think nothing of having a swig of chacha with their breakfast.

To good health, and all that…

a girl smiling and holding up a bottle of chacha
My friend Joanna from The World In My Pocket with some chacha she bought from the side of the road somewhere


8. Chacha goes really well with khinkali


While its common to drink chacha as you’re enjoying some food, one of the best Georgian foods to pair with chacha is khinkali, or Georgian dumplings.

Khinkali are twisted knobs of dough, stuffed with meat, spices, and a delicious hot broth.

The trick is to take a shot of chacha, slurp the broth out from the dumpling as a chaser, and then polish off the rest of the dumpling.

Khinkali houses in Georgia are often open 24/7, making drinking chacha at 4am in a khinkali house an absolute must-do in Georgia.

khinkali
Khinkali go great with chacha


Georgian Chacha | Final Thoughts


I hope I’ve managed to convey a fraction of what Georgian Chacha means to Georgians.

Chacha is intertwined with Georgian culture in the way that pasta is such a huge part of Italian culture, and this potent and distinctive spirit represents so much more than alcohol: chacha represents hospitality, tradition, and the rich cultural heritage of Georgia.


Further Reading


If you found this post interesting, you may be interested in my other boozy posts:

Georgian Amber Wine

Choosing the Perfect Kakheti Wine Tour, Georgia

Why Rakija is Objectively the Best Drink Ever

Making the Perfect Agua de Valencia

Binissalem – Capital of Mallorcan Wine

Kantina Alpeta – Albanian Wine, Slow Food, and Love

Drinking Wine from Mount Etna

How to Host an Aperitivo Party

Cricova Winery, Moldova – World’s Best Wine Cellar

That’s all I’ve got for today, but as always, if you have any questions then don’t forget to leave them in the comments section below and I will get back to you!

Until next time,

XOXO


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1 thought on “Georgian Chacha – 8 Facts About Georgia’s National Drink”

  1. Pingback: Uncorking Georgia's Wine Culture on a Kakheti Wine Tour - Travelling Jezebel

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