The first time I tried rakija (rakija pronunciation – ra-kee-ya) I was 18 years old. I’d just started my first year of university and I met a Bulgarian guy who had brought a plastic water bottle full of homemade alcohol with him to the UK. The clear liquid, made from grapes, was like nothing I’d ever tried before. Just one sip of it would make your eyes water. Its name? Rakija.
After that bottle was finished, I never saw or thought about rakija again. Until I came to the Balkans, that is. I was introduced to rakija of all different flavours, from cherry in Bosnia to honey in Serbia to apricot in Montenegro (honey is the best rakija in my humble opinion).
No day was complete unless a shot of rakija had passed my lips.
You see, rakija is more than just a drink. Rakija is a way of life in Southern Europe and so I thought that I would write an entire article about why rakija is so damn amazing.
18 Reasons Why Rakija is Objectively the Best Drink in the Entire World
What is rakija?
Rakija is a fruit brandy made from the distillation of fermented fruit. Its alcohol content is normally 40% ABV but the percentage of homemade rakija (rakija is moonshine) can go as high as 90% ABV or even more! Typically, rakija is made from grapes or plums, but it can also be made with cherries, apricots, pears, fig, quince, and more!
Not only can rakija be fruit-flavoured, but it can also be infused with other flavours such as honey, walnut or rose.
Although it can be purchased in stores, rakija is often made at home, and is a Slavic and Balkan traditional drink that people take great pride in. If you are travelling in the Balkans, don’t be surprised if total strangers try to invite you into their homes to sample their rakija!
Why is rakija the best drink in the entire world?
1. Rakija comes in all flavours
No matter your preference, there will be a flavour of rakija to suit your needs. Where other kinds of alcohol are limited in this way (most beer just tastes like…beer), rakija can taste of anything from pear to honey, peach to rasberry, apricot to plum. Whatever your pallet prefers, there will be a rakija to suit your taste.
My personal favourites are the apricot and honey varieties, but grape and plum are the strongest and most common.
2. You can support local families
While you can buy rakija from the supermarket, everyone knows that it only counts if you purchase it in an unmarked bottle from an old lady on the side of the road who brewed it in her own backyard. Typically these bottles will be used plastic Coca Cola bottles with an orange Fanta lid – a common sight in the Balkans, and never to be confused with a bottle of water!
Not only are these home brews the best rakija you can buy, but who doesn’t want to support cute old ladies?!
3. Rakija is made from fruit
Fruit is healthy. Rakija is healthy. Need I say more? If you’re anything like me, you probably often forget to eat your 5 a day, but rakija surely counts as a portion of fruit, right? That’s been my logic anyway.
4. Rakija does not cause hangovers
If you drink only rakija and make sure to drink water alongside it, you’ll likely not wake up with a hangover. The same cannot be said for Rosé.
5. You can drink it however you like
Do you want to be sophisticated and sip? No problem. Do you want to be a drunk westerner and shot it? You do you honey. You might get a couple of raised eyebrows if you drink your shot of rakija in one, but they will mostly be looks of amusement at the stupid tourist who doesn’t know what he has just let himself in for.
6. Rakija is antiseptic
When my friend fell down a cliff in Croatia (yes – you read that right – my friend fell down a cliff), locals immediately began treating her cuts with rakija as it is not only an antiseptic, but also cheaper than iodine or whatever else.
My friend did not die. This is definitely thanks to rakija.
7. Rakija relieves stress
Rakija has a direct effect on the nervous system, making it a natural stress reliever. Nobody likes stress, so next time you’re feeling the pressure, have a shot of rakija and your worries will be gone!
8. Rakija varies in strength
How strong is rakija? Well, it’s anyone’s guess. Rakija can be anywhere from 40% all the way up to 90% with some homebrews! Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, there will be a rakija to suit your needs. With most other alcohols, the percentage only ever changes a little.
9. You can drink rakija whenever you like
Rakija and espresso for breakfast?
You’re in the Balkans!
You’re more likely to be judged if you’re not having a cheeky rakija break midway through the working day (Unless you’re in Montenegro, then people will just wonder why you’re working at all).
Every good Balkan man starts his day with an espresso, a cigarette, a glass of water and a shot of rakija. Do not be surprised to see men drinking rakija in a cafe at 7am. It is the traditional way to start the day!
10. Rakija helps you live longer
The antioxidants in rakija help fight radicals that are the main form of ageing. Almost everyone’s grandparents in the Balkans drink a small glass of rakija every day and live to a ripe old age.
After all, if it’s clear, your liver can’t see it – that’s how it works, right?
11. Rakija is easy to make
While I was living in Montenegro, I learnt that the stereotype of Montenegrins is that they are lazy. This is a stereotype that Montenegrins embrace, and use it to get out of doing just about anything.
Rakija is very easy to make, meaning it takes little work, making it perfect for Montenegrins (and anyone else who likes an easy life).
12. Rakija keeps you warm
It can get pretty cold here on planet earth, but with rakija, you never need to fear because as long as you’ve got a supply, you’ll never feel the cold. Rakija warms you from the inside, just like pictures of cute kittens do.
13. Rakija helps you appreciate local culture
Drinking rakija is the number one way to understand the Balkans, meet locals, and sample the local liquid cuisine. After all, who doesn’t want to experience the local culture when they travel? It would be rude not to, right?
14. Rakija is good for circulation
Maybe it’s an old wives tale, but Balkan grannies swear that rakija helps with circulation if you just rub a little bit into your skin. Do I have any science to back this up? Nope, but you bet ima trust these Balkan grandmothers.
15. Rakija is good for weight loss
As someone who drinks way too much beer, which is notoriously high in calories, I was very happy to find out that rakija is one of the few alcoholic beverages that is very low in calories (40ml of rakija has just 92 calories) as it doesn’t contain any sugar! Alcohol that doesn’t make you fat? I’ll take it.
16. Rakija brings people together
Whether it’s at a wedding, funeral, or just a casual trip to a friend’s house, rakija is traditionally served. If you ever find yourself backpacking through the Balkans, be prepared to be offered a welcome shot of rakija in every hostel that you check in to.
There have definitely been a few friendships in my life that have began with rakija, and I’m not mad about it. Rakija surpasses age, culture and language better than any “team building” or “get to know you” exercises that life coaches will tell you.
17. Rakija is literally magic
Rakija prevents the formation of cholesterol deposits in the cardiovascular system and actively reduces the amount of cholesterol in your body, dramatically decreasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
So er, shots anyone?
18. Rakija gets you very drunk
Excessive consumption of rakija (or let’s face it – even the smallest consumption of rakija) will result in one becoming incredibly drunk, which is the primary job of alcohol, no?
I think that anybody who has had experiences with rakija can testify that it does indeed result in extreme intoxication, thus doing its job well.
So, there we have it.
Rakija, more than any other alcohol in the entire world is really bloody brilliant. It’s healthy (ahem), tasty, multipurpose and really really alcoholic. Therefore, I conclude that rakija is objectively the best drink in the entire world.
Do you agree? I’d love to hear about your rakija stories in the comments section below!