In this second article, Svetlin Merchin explains the differences between aged and unaged rakias, as weel as the type of rakias to be consumed in the different times of the year.
Aged versus unaged (fresh) rakia
There is a common perception, not only in Bulgaria but overall around the world, that the aged (matured in oak) spirits are better than the unaged (fresh) ones. Very often this is true for some kinds of spirits such as whisky and cognac. However, for rakia this statement is far from the truth. The reason is that unlike whisky, whose basis is grain distillate or cognac and armagnac, whose basis is basically distillate from the grape varieties Ugni Blanc or Folle Blanche, the basis for rakia is either a fruit distillate or a distillate from various grape types. Especially in the case of the high quality rakia the fruit is preselected and very carefully cleaned, which in turn makes the qualities and the character of the distillate in terms of aroma and taste far more different and complex than those of let’s say many of the distillates used for the production of whisky. That is why in rakia it could be looked for either the effects from aging or the freshness and complexity in the taste and aroma coming from the base material used as well as the methodology and kind of equipment used in the process of fruit selection, fermentation, distillation and so on.
There are types of rakia, for instance grape and quince, that generally provide great results both aged and unaged (fresh). At the same time plum rakia has a great aging potential and the results of the proper and professional aging are remarkable. That is why almost all of the plum rakia that could be found on the market has been at least for a while aged in oak. Other types of rakia, for instance Viljamovka (Williams pear), gives far better results if it is unaged and in a lot of styles of Viljamovka it is relied exactly on the freshness. Having in mind all mentioned above it is worth noting that the aging process does not necessarily guarantee structure or more value to a spirit. What actually leads to good results is not the aging itself but the professional and well done aging of the distillate but only when it is appropriate.
Seasonality of consumption
Very often our team faces some challenges with regard to the people’s perceptions of when rakia should be consumed in terms of seasonality. It turns out that in the mind of many people (in Bulgaria) rakia is a winter drink only, because it is alcohol, which is very often oak matured. At the same time the rest of the people perceive rakia as a completely summer drink, because they associate its consumption with fresh salad. Based on that, I guess you could reach the conclusion on your own that there is no seasonality to rakia consumption. There is a clear and distinct seasonality to the consumption of the different kinds of rakia though. While some types and styles of rakia such as aged plum or aged grape rakia are mostly suitable for the winter season, other kinds and styles of rakia are more autumn / spring and even summer drinks, especially if combined with the right food. Those are, for instance, Viljamovka, apricot and raspberry rakia. A tip from our side – try a gin tonic cocktail, but instead of gin try apricot rakia and add some basil on top. The end result – a fresh summer drink with distinct freshness having apricot, vanilla and coconut aroma and flavour instead of juniper, much longer aftertaste and obviously more complexity.
In that context we should mention the topic of the ever more increasing interest for making cocktails based on rakia. It of course takes some time until the cocktail masters learn what the right way to work with this kind of complex drinks is and get to know its enormous potential for making cocktails. Fortunately, especially in the last couple of years, there are more and more bartenders, mixologists and bar owners who are very excited and focused on working with the jewel of the Balkans. They are starting to realize that instead of for instance searching for quince, and herbal aromas, they can simply use quince rakia, whose main aromas are bourbon geranium, geranium, some spiciness, some oak and much more, which are already perfectly balanced in the drink used as a base.
Picture : A cocktail with Rakia, called Sour 1924, using Hubert Dunja 1924 as a base
Our team strongly encourages everybody having an interest in natural, complex, fruit based spirits to try and to explore the enormous and very thrilling world of rakia. Just make sure that you go to experienced local people who are able to properly and successfully take you on a journey through it.