Raki, similar to grappa or moonshine, is the Albanian social drink. In the morning it’s served with a Kafe Turke and, whenever you visit someone’s home, their version of the drink is poured in a glass for you as a sign of respect. Of course, all of this applies only to men, as it’s rarely consumed by women. In general, raki is a high-proof, clear liquor that can get you into trouble…but if you follow the custom and sip, don’t shoot, it can be an enjoyable drink (some think). I still haven’t gotten used to it.
Raki can be made from just about any fruit, but in Lezhe it’s mostly made with grapes. Most families make a small amount using the grapes from their arbors at home. Since the grapes were harvested here in early September and have had a while to ferment, right about now is prime raki-making season. My landlord Selim is in the process of running his still every afternoon after work, and I’ve been able to get a sense for the delicate nature of the raki making process.
Selim uses a copper still of traditional design. Inside the copper device the fermented grape mash boils over heat from the fire. The alcohol then evaporates and is forced into a tube running through a cooling pan of water, where it condenses and falls into the receiving glass container. The fire underneath the still can’t be too hot, though or the mash will boil too quickly and either explode the still or produce a product so hot that all the alcohol evaporates. In all it takes about 2 hours to go through one fillup of the still.
After trying so many kinds of raki over the past year and a half, I’m glad to see how it all works, finally – and, I’ve been able to taste the real thing coming fresh from the still.