The time has come to pay attention to the most popular, produced and consumed at the moment in Bulgaria and Macedonia rakia – the grape-based rakia! We will again share a lot of interesting but very often not mentioned facts about the grape rakia and will of course emphasize on the proper ways to consume the different kinds and styles of grape rakia.
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Interesting facts about the legal framework for grape rakia
According to the legal framework, there are 3 types of grape-based rakia in Bulgaria:
Grape pomace rakia – it is based on the residual products of wine production. It is produced from pomace or the residual material after wine has been produced from the grape juice. The world analogue would be the grappa.
Grape “grape” rakia – rakia produced through the fermentation of the dry material (pomace) and grape juice together. The resulting material is then distilled.
Grape wine rakia – Produced through distillation of wine. In other words, grape juice is used to make wine, which is then distilled. This is generally the traditional Bulgarian grape based rakia. Also in Bulgaria, the so-called Remy method is traditionally practiced, in which wine and lees are distilled, which in turn leads to more complex distillates with a more powerful body.
Our view about the legal framework in Bulgaria
Here we must clearly note that the legal framework in Bulgaria at the moment is, to put it mildly, unclear and absolutely incomprehensible to all colleagues around the world. The law is very strict in its parts where there is no need for strictness. At the same time, it opens many doors allowing all sorts of “experiments”. The control is carried out in a strange and illogical way to put it mildly. Instead of controlling the quality, controlled are volumes, degrees, etc. In general, the perception of the authorities is that almost every producer is an abuser. No one is saying that there are no abusers, but the task of the controlling authorities should be to support producers, not to treat everyone as a criminal. Without the support and assistance of the state, high-quality alcohol cannot be produced. Until control bodies change their approach, they should know that the responsibility for people drinking bad and low-quality alcohol is to a great extend theirs!
The fundamentals for producing real grape rakia
The main grape varieties used for rakia
The focus in the production of grape rakia оn the Balkans is on the aromatic grape varieties. In general, white grapes are preferred, but this does not mean that red ones are not used. Recently, there has been a clear trend to use more and more local grape varieties such as the different types of Misket in Bulgaria.
Muscat – the dominant grape variety for rakia in Bulgaria – proper or not really?
In general, recently the dominant grape variety for bulgarian grape has been Muscat. Our personal opinion is even that in general its use is seriously abused. At the same time, from our point of view, its full potential is not being realized. The rakia produced has controversial quality and low level of complexity at best. Muscat definitely has serious potential to be used in blends along with distillates from other grape varieties. Serious work must be done in this direction and a lot of effort and a little investment are required. At the same time, Muscat has a serious potential to produce good and complex single variety distillates. However, a lot of attention, diligence and effort is required.
The local grape varieties and the importance to use them in rakia production
We strongly welcome the use of local varieties. In the case of Bulgaria, Karlovski Misket, Vrachanski Misket, Varnenski Musket and Dimyat have a huge potential for rakia production and provide great results. It is a very good idea to blend distillates of these local varieties with other interesting for the production of rakia distillates such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, etc.
The vine harvest and its relation to the production of high quality rakia
It is extremely important that the grapes are picked at the right time, which differs significantly depending on the grape variety used. This moment also depends to some extent on the style of distillate and rakia, which the producer wants and plans to produce. In any case, this moment is usually not the moment when the grapes are fully ripened and with maximum sugar content. On the contrary, a good balance between sugar content and acidity is needed.
The fermentation process is of course completely different depending on whether the pomace, grape or wine rakia is produced.
The importance of the real and good care for the base material
Let’s start with a very important point – cleaning and processing the base material. It is extremely important that the material is well cleaned of stems, rotten grapes, etc. Especially in the case of pomace rakia or in the absence of suitable vessels for keeping the wine, it is important to process the material as quickly as possible!
The fermentation of the different kinds of grape rakia (pomace, grape, wine rakia)
In the production of pomace rakia, fermentation of residual material – pomace takes place. This is the only case in the production of rakia, when it might make sense to add very little sugar or sugar substitute and water in order to start the fermentation process. In case the producer decides to go for that option, they of course may not have any high expectations for the distillate and, accordingly, the rakia they will produce. In the production of wine rakia, the dry material is separated from the grape juice, which in turn ferments and produces wine. It is important to know that in the production of wine for distillation, the profile of the wine sought is fundamentally different from that of wine intended for direct consumption. Based on the experience and following good practices from the world of well-established spirits worldwide such as Cognac, Armagnac, etc. we can conclude that the wine intended for distillation is desirable to have a lower alcohol content (between 8% and 11%) and a higher level of acidity. It must not be sulphited. As with all other types of rakia, slower and colder fermentation would lead to a higher level of complexity of the distillate, in most cases at the expense of a lower level of base material expression.
The process is of course radically different depending on the material available for distillation or in other words whether we produce pomace, grape or wine rakia. The main risk in the production of pomace rakia is the burning in the distillation process. Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. In reality, it appears in almost all cases. The reason is that the producers of pomace rakia usually do not have the technical ability to prevent the burning. For this purpose, either a pot still with steam heating that is able to distribute the heat evenly is needed or a device to stir in the pot still should be available or both would be needed. The so-called Bain-marie pot stills, which have a water-coated layer and are used in the production of grappa, could also be used. Objectively speaking, however, producers of pomace rakia usually do not have such equipment. With the use of direct fire and the lack of a stirrer, in reality it is difficult to completely avoid burning. When distilling wine, you can work with a variety of distillation techniques. Given that in Bulgaria the so-called Remy method is mainly practiced and lees are almost always available in the distillation process, many producers would prefer to use direct fire in order to have a temperature effect on the lees themselves. Such, for example, is the practice in Cognac.
Pot still, distillation column or pot still with distillation column
As we have noted in other articles we published, in general, in the production of fruit-based alcohols, the use of distillation columns or the so-called continuous distillation is extremely rare. The reason is that the alcohol profile they produce usually does not match with what is sought by producers and consumers. Recently, pot stills are common, which have a column mounted on top, which completes the distillation process. This may turn out to be a good compromise. We do not want to go into too much detail, and we believe that this is already the work of technologists and engineers, but this type of technique also has not only its advantages but also its disadvantages, especially if the ability to adjust or completely turn off the column, depending on the raw material and the desired style of distillate, is limited or non-existent.
In the case of the grape-based rakias, there is also a perception that the oak matured rakia is better and therefore it is usually more preferred than the unmatured one. However, grape rakias are a clear example of the exact opposite.
Is the maturation of grape rakia really a must?
We want to again remind that the lenght of the maturation of rakia should be limitted. It is even more so when we recall the widespread and popular in the past combination of rakia with Shopska salad. It is exactly the Shopska salad that is the type of food that would fit to a fresher and non oak matured rakia due to the high acidity of the tomatoes in the salad itself. For many of the foods, and especially for the salads, the non oak matured grape rakias are more suitable than the matured ones. Furthermore, the truth is that, for example, in the case of the highly expressive Muscat rakias, maturation may not have any real positive effect, on the contrary. At the very beginning of the conceptual planning and creation of the product, it must be taken into account whether the rakia will mature or not. This is important for a large part of the production process – from the choice of grape varieties, through the method of fermentation, to distillation. Depending on the grape variety and the method of production, grape rakia can demonstrate very good maturation potential. In most cases, it is more limited than, for example, with plum and quince rakia, but in case of choosing the right grape variety or the right blend and proper production process, great results can be achieved by maturation.
Maturation period and the risk of over-maturation
Again, we want to remind you that the potential for maturing a distillate is always limited. Especially with fruit and grape alcohols, great care must be taken with the period they spend in wood. In the case of rakia, it must not lose its fruit profile and become a drink going more in the style of brandy. Realistically, most of the rakias in Bulgaria are massively over-matured in oak. Also, as we have noted many times, the maturation period for an alcohol is only the time spent in a wooden vessel. Rakia produced 30 years ago, which spent 1 year in a barrel is a one year old rakia, not a 30 year old. We also want to warn you to be careful when trusting the years of maturation written on the labels of Bulgarian rakias. We do not want to go into details, because this is a rather long topic. We will only tell you that what is written on the label, in most cases, is not what you think. Misleading customers, although in most cases what is stated on the label is legally true or in the gray area, is definitely not the right approach in the long run.
It is important to mention what maturation of rakia really means and how maturation affects the distillate
In order to close this topic, we would like to draw your attention to the difference between “maturation” and “coloring”. In the case of maturation, the color comes from the oak extraction resulting from the period the distillate spent in the barrel. In this case, the color is an indicator of the overall oak extraction that the distillate acquires from its stay in SPECIALLY TREATED BARRELS, expressed in many components giving different types of aromas and flavors to the distillate such as vanilla, caramel, coconut, coffee, cocoa. chocolate, etc. This is actually the important aspect of maturation. The color itself is really irrelevant, except when it comes to the appearance of the final product. When it comes to coloring, the color comes from adding a substance to the distillate or from adding parts of some kind of wood to the distillate. As for the first case, most countries around the world allow the addition of, for example, caramel to change color. Namely in the case of grape rakias, experience shows that this option is massively abused. Regarding the second method, we can only say that its use can and very often does cause many side effects. When the wood immersed in the distillate is not well processed, it disbalances the distillate, gives off unwanted aromas and flavors, it may also be somewhat poisonous.
Our suggestion for good quality grape rakia
While creating our portfolio of grape rakias, we have tried to cover the full range of styles and possible combinations with food. In recent years we have managed to realize 4 series of Raketa Single Barrel with 4 different barrels. This is our long-term joint project with Raketa Rakia Bar, in which we have put great efforts over the years and which we have managed to realize more than successfully on the market. One of these series won a silver medal at Spirits Selection 2019, which for a product that costs 12 euro with VAT and competes with all Cognacs, Armagnacs and all the other grape-based bandies in the world is an absolutely phenomenal success. Our strategy for excellent rakia with a good brand, retro image and specially selected content paid off generously. We do not know how many restaurants other that Raketa Rakia Bar in Sofia there are in the world and whether there are any all that can be proud of of their own brand of a drink with such an award that they can offer their customers at this price.
Our pride – our own brand Ednā rakia
The main product in our portfolio of grape rakias of course is our own brand Ednā rakia. This is an absolutely revolutionary product, representing rakia, which is on the edge between rakia and brandy. A product that brings rakia into the future and with which we hope to lay the foundations for the development of rakia as a product so that in some time it reaches the results that Cognac, Armagnac, Tequila, etc. achieved over the years. This is a goal that is definitely not unattainable. Desire, skill, knowledge and, above all, a vision for the development of rakia as a product are required.
When it comes to rakias to be paired with salads and pickles, we can offer Raketa grape and Bukovska lozova. In the slightly more mature class come Rozova dolina and Rosalza from our friends from Chateau Copsa, with whom we have the honor to work on the Raketa Single Barrel and the Raketa Small Batch, as well as Matured Grape Rakia Isperih. An excellent opportunity for the fans of highly aged Bulgarian rakias and especially for those who are looking for something as a gift is Rubayat 25 years old grape. In the series of exotic products, we offer the Shafrantiika of our friend Chef Radichev, which would appeal very well to all fans of the spice saffron, as well as Rakia Rubayat Liuta. Also upon demand we can offer exotic and reminding of the hot summer rakias of Vina Rossi from Croatia.
We have also tried to have a selection of brandies that fall into the category of more mature and digestif intended drinks. In order to meet the highest standards, we offer you our selection of Preslav brandies.
Food pairing for grape rakia
Since we are talking about rakia, the topic of food pairing has already been, of course, partially addressed in the article so far. Naturally, the right combination depends very much on the style and level of oak extraction (maturation period). Consequently, we will offer combinations based on these two main factors:
Non oak matured grape rakias
Matured grape rakias
- Baked cheese
Intensively aromatic grape rakias
- Aromatic cheese
- Green food
- Spicy food
Moderately aromatic grape rakias
- Fresh cheese
- Heavy salads
- Dry appetizers
The exact combination depends on many indicators that are strictly individual for each specific rakia. While with other types of rakia the choice is perhaps a little easier, with grape the dependencies on which the choice is based are many. If you need a specific recommendation do not hesitate to contuct us.
Grape rakia – challenges
Grape rakia has a lot of fans who consider it the only real rakia. Here, too, we can safely say that those are even whole regions and these are, of course, mainly wine-growing regions, where there is a large availability of grape and a tradition of working with it. In this case, there is an important factor that makes grape rakia increasingly popular, namely its relatively low cost of production. Many households in recent years rely on grape as a base material for the production of rakia precisely because of the low cost of production of grape rakia of medium or low quality. Unfortunately, this has also been the trend in recent years among the producers of non-homemade rakia for sale, especially the large ones. For reasons that are not clear to anyone, almost without exception, they try to produce low-cost products only. This in turn has its consequences. Such as:
- It kills the rakia market as a whole
- Creates a bad image of rakia as a product
- Prevents rakia from developing as a product, moving forward and establishing itself on the world markets
- Kills all other types of rakia except grape and apple, because their cost of of production is much lower, and their production is much easier
- Very often it harms the health of consumers
To conclude – it requires a lot of work, patience and efforts but there is a lot that can be done to achieve a better quality grape rakia and thus improve the perception for rakia as a whole
Unfortunately, in conclusion, we would like to note that most of what we have written in this article today is just a theory. There are many abuses, and the desire of most producers to produce something of good quality is very limited or non-existent. It is clear that the legal framework in its current form is, to put it mildly, a bad basis. However, this is not the main problem. The main problem is that rakia producers have to overcome themselves, and instead of thinking about how to follow the legal framework and just produce something, they have to set high standards for themselves. Only in this way can rakia move forward to become a world drink of high quality. Rakia itself as a product definitely has a huge potential. The question is whether all subjects in the chain of bringing rakia to the end customers have the ability and knowledge to realize this potential.
Please follow our website for more articles regarding the proper ways to consume the different types of rakia. Follow us on facebook to stay up to date for the new events that we organize. You can always contact us on +359882517935 or email@example.com if you need more information regarding any rakia.
We wish you nice time reading and PLEASE DO consume wine, alcohol and any other alcoholic beverages wisely, only for pleasure and most importantly refrain from excessive consumption! Do not underestimate the circumstances, obey the law and never drive after drinking alcohol!!!
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