Just like in most of the other countries on the Balkans, rakia production in Croatia started in ancient times and just like in all other Balkan countries, rakia is widely considered to be the country’s national drink.
Rakia production in Croatia is has very long traditions. Due to Croatia’s geographical position and historic development, rakia production like many other things in Croatia, has experienced a major Mediterranean influence. Italy has of course played a major role not only by influencing the developments in production, but also in terms of consumer preferences and taste. Italy remains also nowadays one the major export markets for Croatian rakia and the constant migration between the two countries inevitably has a major impact on the overall consumer preferences on the market.
The traditional kind of rakija is widely considered to be the “šljivovica”, which is of course made out of plums. The “šljivovica” is especially very popular in the northern parts of the country. Other popular kinds of rakia in Croatia are Travarica (made with different weeds or herbs depending on the part of Croata where it is produced), Loza and Komovica (both of them made out of grape with the latter one being basically the lower cost version), Viljamovka (made out of pear and typical for the north-eastern part of Croatia), the two typically Istrian specialties – Medica (usually grape or plum rakia with some honey added to it) and Biska (usually grape rakia made with mistletoe and other herbs in it) and Orahovica (very often considered a kind of a Walnut liqueur).
Currently, the consumer preferences and thus production especially in Istria seem to be very strongly influenced by grappa. The dominating kind does still depend on the region of Croata being of course in turn influenced by the availability of fruits, local consumer taste, tourist flow, export markets, etc.
The tightening of the rules and legal regulations after Croatia joined the European Union has led to major changes on the market. The tough rules have forced a lot of producers to leave the market. While the production of homemade rakia for private consumption remains of course very popular, the number of producers of high quality rakia for non-private use has decreased dramatically.
When you visit Croatia, make sure that you also don’t forget to experience this side of its culture. Go to a nice restaurant and ask for the best rakia they can offer to you or ask your local neighbours what they can recommend.