UPDATED POST 2021
It’s that time of year again! Rain clouds, hot cocoa, cozy sweaters and of course, the holidays!
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Fall is my most favorite time of year and I couldn’t help but get lost in the cobwebs and spooky horror flicks; but since Halloween just passed, I knew I had to stop my holiday madness (at least for a little bit) and give you guys a special treat!
And that treat is Raki!
Yup, you read that right! The Greek moonshine that gives you the ultimate fire breath. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Raki is some serious stuff.
October is grape harvesting month in Greece… and the Greeks don’t just harvest the grapes. They harvest the whole plant! Grapes, leaves and vines included; and it’s all turned into delicious Greek wine, tasty dolmadakias (stuffed grape leaves) and last but not least, Raki (also known as Tsikoudia in Crete).
I’ve mentioned Raki (Raw-Ke) in several of my posts throughout the summer but never had the chance to see how it’s actually made… until now!
Dan and I were recently invited into a family home for a meal and to see how traditional Greek Raki is made.
(update: We have been invited every year we have lived in Greece… over 4 consecutive years… and haven’t missed one celebration! It truly is such a wonderful experience that I hope you, one day, will get to witness, too!)
We gladly accepted the invitation and walked on over to a nearby home in the village where we live. We feasted on delicious homemade Greek cuisine and conversed with the wonderful family that welcomed us in.
They discussed in detail how Raki is made all while celebrating with Greek dancing, music, food, wine and, of course, Raki!
I had no idea how intense and labor driven the process is, even though the steps are fairly easy:
- You take the leftover grapes, vines and leaves after they have been stomped out (to make wine) and then boil the mixture inside the chamber and cap at the top of a Kazani. A Kazani (Kah-Zaa-Knee) is a special brewing chamber specifically used to make Raki.
- The Kazani boils the grape mixture from a natural fire below. If the fire is too hot or not hot enough, it will ruin the batch of Raki, so there needs to be an eye on it the whole time.
- While the grape mixture is boiling in the Kazani chamber, steam is produced from a water supply that sits in a deep basin. (The cement block in the picture above is the basin that holds the water next to the chamber and cap.)
- The steam starts to form condensation/vapors, which in turn liquefies again.
- The result of the condensation/vapor is Raki.
- It is then filtered and tested for the alcohol percentage.
All this Raki is then barreled, jarred and bottled to use throughout the entire year until the following October harvest season rolls around. It’s an incredible, exhausting operation that is filled with over-pouring love.
Once the firewood has burned down to embers, they reuse it and throw it into the grill to cook our endless meal. Also, the leftover used up grape mixture after distillation is soon turned into fertilizer for future farming.
This particular Kazani was built in the year 1911 and has been in working service for the village ever since.
A special permit is needed to operate the Kazani, and it costs the family 40 euros a day to run it for the season. Families all over the village bring their barrels of leftover stomped grape mixture and pay their way to make their Raki here.
This Kazani is operated by the men of the family – and in our village of Sternes, it’s ,over three generations deep! It takes about 3 to 4 men to operate and produce Raki.
They rotate shifts throughout the night:
cleaning out the old batch of grape mixture in the Kazani chamber,
filling up the Kazani with a new grape mixture,
filling it up a little more, (that’s a whole lotta grape!)
sealing the Kazani cap back up with a flour/yeast mixture which turns into a gasket,
keeping the fire perfectly lit,
filtering the end product of Raki and then testing the alcohol percentage – making sure it’s perfect.
Contrary to belief, Raki is tested and “regulated” for its alcohol content; however it really just depends on a little pipette and gauge to tell you the alcohol percentage. When Raki is sold in stores from small villages like this, there’s no label on the bottle specifying how much alcohol is actually in the beverage; however it’s usually around 40-45%.
What I didn’t realize is that when the Raki first starts to accumulate and pour out of the nozzle, it’s much higher in concentration… thus leading to a higher alcohol percentage.
And, unknowingly, who decides to down a shot glass of that first little bit? Me, of course. Raki is not for everyone, though. It’s very strong and has a unique taste. Think of earthy-vodka.
We drink it when we go out to dinner. It’s usually always offered on the house at every taverna. It’s known as a social sipping aperitif here in Greece, but some people like to drink a little more than just the “normal” few small shot glasses after dinner.
(update: remember how I said the Kazani is operated by the men of the family only? Well, it was our last year living in Greece… which meant it was our last time celebrating at the Kazani with our amazing Greek friends who turned family over the years. They knew how much we loved partaking in this wonderful tradition – so they asked me to join them and let me start the process of making Raki for the following season! It was such an emotional, heartwarming experience and I was gratefully honored to have been invited! I even had a yia yia (Greek grandma) spit on my shoe 3 times (for good luck, of course!)
Raki is the cultural and traditional liquor of Greece. It is made in small batches and you find the best from the small villages scattered around the Islands. It dates back to the fourteenth century. It’s organic and pure.
Making Raki is a complete reduce, reuse, recycle process. And everyone on the island drinks it – yia yia’s and teens alike.
It really can’t get any more Greek than that!
**Giveaway has ended in DEC 2016.