Gourmet 16.11.2015

The great Rakija or Grappa Guide – give the wine some rest!

This popular brandy or a spirit comes in many arts and forms, primarily depending on the region it originates from, so as we are warming up for upcoming winter days, we’re bringing you on a round-the-Croatia-tour ‘fuelled’ by rakija.

The Essence of Rakija

If you ask someone from Croatia what rakija represents you will probably get an answer similar to this one:

Rakija is that ace in the sleeve, that secret weapon against all that is enemy to common man. It will destroy bacteria, relieve you of stomach and muscle pain, annihilate any virus and disinfect a wound instantly. In fact, it used to be called «aqua vitae».” It’s a natural remedy, a list of medical achievements poured into a shot of a traditional beverage.

Other than its evident medicinal use, it goes down extremely well in any possible occasion. Whether you just woke up out of a coma or are about to roller-skate on a freeway – Rakija is there to enhance the experience. Not only does it open your palate before dinner and soothes the taste buds after some delicious prosciutto, but it also relishes the aftertaste by putting a huge grin on your face.

Rakija and Croatians mix quite well. Only when Rakija is passed around can you feel the true hospitality of a generous Croatian who either made it himself or has a father/cousin/wife’s relatives in the country. And buying it in the store is simply something Croatians don’t do. – The Croatia Expert blog sums it up so nicely that we simply cannot but agree. 

Rakija Tradition & Heritage

Rakija (rah-kee-yah) is the catch-all term for any kind of spirit distilled from fruit (and not just fruit) popular on the Balkans, and it translates mostly to ‘brandy’.  It is a first cousin of Greek Ouzo and Truksih Raki, Arabic Arac, distant cousin of Russian votka and in case of „Loza“ half-sister to Italian grappa – or to put it more colourfully „same mum different dad, or same production process, different type of grape“.

The entire production process is not that complicated, yet it is considered an art from, and rarely will your host share that secret touch which makes his Rakija the best. It consists of distillation of fermented fruit and various herbs depending what you want your Rakija to taste like. The lowest amount of alcohol a variety of Rakija can have is 20%, where the highest legal percentage would be around 60% (though some home-made ones go as high as 70 – 75%).

Varieties of Rakija

Rakija comes in many arts and forms, primarily depending on the region it originates from.

Is an instant classic and specific for the southern part of Croatia. It is quite simply an infusion of a variety of herbs in pure grape brandy, and there are as many recipes for travarica as there are people producing it. Some contain as few as 10 herbs, while others can contain 20 or more. Travarica often contains rosemary, chamomile, lavender, rose hips, matgrass, juniper, thyme, currants, mint or sage, but the list of possible additions is practically endless.

Loza is a colorless natural brandy distilled from fermented crushed grapes. A selection of different grape varieties is used to achieve the best aromas and most complex flavors. Loza has the least taste and smell but best stay away from it until you master the other ones – it kicks in fast and hard.

Medica is one of the most popular varieties in northern-western part of Croatia. It is specific to Istria but quite renowned throughout the entire country as it spread quickly due to its sweet taste and a mass followship. Its Rakija made out of honey and spiced with propolis.

Medica is a devil in disguise. Its sweet, flows smoothly, and once you get going you don’t really stop until it’s too late. It has a certain jet lag effect as it can kick you in the ass long after you had your last one. It’s probably the closest Rakija to a liqueur due to its sweetness but is still miles away from any actual liqueur. However, if you run across a Medica, approach it with caution, drink it wisely and be sure it’s from Istria, that’s where the best stuff comes from.

Šljivovica is a plum brandy essential for the northern part of Croatia. It carries the flavor and aroma of light candied plums with a hint of toasted almond. 

This Rakija variety is made from cherries (“višnje”). The cherries are usually cleaned and put in Loza or Komovica to stay there and ferment. This process results in a sweet dark red liquid which preserves both the strong taste and the smooth flow of one of the finest Rakijas your taste buds can have the pleasure of tasting. This is an easy Rakija to manipulate as you can carefully select whether to make it really strong or more along the line of cherry juice with a touch of alcohol. You don’t need a house, a backyard, a barrel or anything like that. Cherries can be fermented on the balcony of your apartment. It’s only necessary to get the ratio right. However, an old recipe says that if you add some rum to the mixture, the taste suddenly reaches new heights.

Typical for the north-eastern part of Croatia, this is one of the most respected varieties of Rakija in the country. Its basic ingredient is a pear and is not to be confused with the liqueur made out of pears, which is bright red and quite often consumed with a dash of milk. 

This one is also on the verge of being considered a liqueur. It’s made out of walnuts or “orah” as the Croatians call it. Not rich in alcohol but very rich in flavor. Walnuts are applicable and efficient in a variety of cases. A walnut tincture strengthens the hair root, its oil is used to darken the skin while sunbathing and the fruit itself is excellent for gastritis and fats found in the blood system.

Photos by Domacica.com.hr

Only because of the above-mentioned traits, Orahovica is considered a miracle worker. It has a darker brown color whose intensity depends on how long the walnut can be kept in a Rakija, and the taste is a combination of sweet and sour.

From Istra through Dalmatia and over to Dubrovnik, Rakija was passed along generation after generation and it quickly became the traditional beverage of an entire country.  You really have to taste it to believe it; a shot of Rakija can go a long way.


Visit our hotel bars to find your rakija of choice and head out to Dubrovnik Old Town market for a bit of this magic potion to bring home with.


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