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Cretan Raki : Everything You Should Know
Every time I consider Cretan raki, memories flood back into my head. I see visions of people grinning in the Cretan mountain villages. people who don’t make excessive demands. Although they had a difficult life, they overcame it with fortitude and a permanent smile on their faces. Even if they weren’t sure whether they’d be able to have such things tomorrow, they knew that a few friends, a salad from their backyard, some bread, and some Cretan raki for everyone to share, might make them happy. the people who were actually joyful and lively.
Before I start writing more about this phenomenal spirit, I want to make clear that raki is equal to Cretan hospitality. It’s a drink that creates memories. It’s a drink that creates friendships. True friendships. It’s not a drink that you should get wasted on, so please treat it with respect.
And now it’s time for some small talk and facts about Cretan raki…
Read more: Top-10 best Cretan Food to Try
History of Cretan Raki
The history of distillation of this drink goes back in time, around seven to eight centuries ago. Rumors say, that the monks of Mount Athos are the first people who made this drink. They started cultivating land and they wanted to make the most out of their land while treating it with respect. And that’s how they were also treating the vines that they had. It started with the fruit of the grapes. Then it went on with using their leaves, their sprouts, their stem and eventually the trunk. Initially, they were using only the fruit, the most important part of the juice extraction process, by making wine, a drink that is widely known from the ancient times. In order to use the remaining of the wine process, instead of throwing it away, Cretan raki was born.
It quickly spread out to Greece and even to Mediterranean countries, with of course a lot of changes from the original recipe. For the Greek people making raki was an excellent way of getting an extra income and so the governments gave the first licenses for raki production. Then the distillation process became a tradition, with each new generation, that inherits the methods, the recipes and knowledge of the distillation process for their ancestors.
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The mass that is left over after manufacturing wine serves as the primary ingredient in the process of making tsikoudia. This mass includes the grape meat (75-85%), seeds (3-6%), and a little amount of juice that is still in the peels. It also comprises grape peels (6-9%). If you let the grapes ferment naturally, the fermentation process’ first step takes around a month. The first distillation is where we get 15% to 20% of the original mass. We then proceed to the second distillation, filling the cauldron between 80% and 90% of the way full and discarding the initial 0.5 to 1 liter. The remaining 50% of the first mass used in the second distillation is gathered, and the remaining portion is discarded to be used in the subsequent first distillation. Tsikoudia typically has an alcohol content between 38% and 45% abv.
Name & Variants
The name raki for this alcoholic drink in widely used in Crete and even in Greece. But is it correct? Should we stop using it? What about all the other alcoholic drinks like tsipouro, grappa, arrak, etc.?
At 1989 names of some alcoholic beverages were authorized by the EEC. Turkey registers the name “Raki”. Greece registers the names “Tsikoudia of Crete”, “Tsipouro of Tyrnavos”, “Tsipouro of Macedonia” and “Tsipouro of Thessaly”. So the name raki that is common throw-out Greece is Turkish name but everyone in Greece will understand what you are talking about and you will insult no one if you use the name raki instead of tsikoudia.
There are also a lot of variants around the Mediterranean. Some of them are grappa in Italy, zivania in Cyprus, Arrack in Middle East and much more. (Do not confuse Arak with Arrack which is different drink)
How & when to drink Cretan raki
Serve tsipouro chill in shot glasses with some food (small quantity aka mezes) to accompany it. Perfect mezes in Crete is some Cretan cheese or just some rusks with olives. Adding honey in raki is another way of drinking it. And it also has a special name rakomelo (combination of the words raki and honey).
Best time to drink, is when you have good company around you and some food to eat while drinking. And keep in mind this is a strong in alcohol spirit. Some food and water are essential in order to keep you sober. Learn about the differences between Raki and Ouzo
Cheers to all the friendships that were made while sipping Cretan raki, cheers to all the laughers, cheers to health and good times!
A team of foodies, cooks, and travelers. Alios Tours was founded out of our passion for Greek food. We share the delicious side of Greece.