The Sultan of the Drinks: Raký

Raký is the sultan of the drinks in Turkey. It is national drink of us. It is an alcoholic beverage made of grape, water and aniseed.

The history of raký is not very clear. For grape products and wine it is easier to chase the origins: According to the Testament, after the flood, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat and Noah, a man of soil, planted a vineyard, drink some of its wine  and became drunk.

Mountains of Ararat (Greater and Lesser) are in eastern corner of Turkey and we can claim easily that wine is originated from this country! Linguistic discussion that ‘RRT’ in the Book did not mean Ararat but Urartu would have not much place on raký tables! Simply we can proudly say that Urartu civilization was around Lake Van in Eastern Turkey too… Anyway, people were happily drinking wine for thousands of years that they even created wining Gods for themselves. Bronze Age, Ancient and Medieval peoples of Turkey enjoyed wine and some of the regions and cities economy were even depended on it. Meanwhile Turkic peoples of the Central Asia got tight by drinking kýmýz, which is fermented mare’s milk.

Wine consumption was not ceased in Muslim Turkish rule as well. Wine prohibition of the Koran did not stop many Muslims to drink wine, certainly could not people of the other faiths. Time to time some Ottoman Sultans was eager for prohibition of wine all together but in some case, they were the first to break their own rule. Even some of the sultans wrote poems on pleasure of drinking wine or they just had a nickname as ‘’Drunk’’.

There is not much evidence about ordinary folk but it should not be because they were not drinking but because they did not record. However, it is obvious that some Muslim religious orders were consuming wine as part of their religious practice. There are religious poems and folk stories on wine drinking. Red wine had a name as ‘’lion’s blood’’. That young man is like a lion and he drinks lion’s blood!

It is not very clear but in some stage raký consumption started. There are traces that Sicilian Arabs were drinking some sort of raký as early as 9th century and 16th century Greeks and Turks from Aegean Islands were drinking it too with bits of meze (appetizers). Today besides Turks some other Mediterranean people, Arabs, Greeks, Italians and French have some sort of liquor that is made of grape and aniseed.

In mid 19th century, raký became dominant alcoholic beverage in meyhane of the Ottoman Empire. Mey means wine and hane means house. Wine houses became raký-serving places without changing its name. It is the situation still.

The taste of it was created at that time as it is today and State Monopoly period of the Republican period also helped to shape its making and taste.

According to the traditional raký production, first suma is prepared. State Monopoly used to use just raisins but today it was privatized so there are different raký makers. They use either raisins or fresh grapes or both at the same time. They are cut into pieces in the cutting machines. They are placed in the tanks with water and ţýra, grape must is prepared. The taste of the water is also important for the taste of raký. Then pure yeast is added to it to start alcoholic fermentation. Suma, distillate is distilled twice in traditional copperware alembics of 5000 lt. or less with aniseed. Therefore, raký has the aroma of grapes and scent of aniseed.

State Monopoly, Tekel was privatized and name of the company is Mey now. Mey still produces its original products and added them some new ones too. Yeni Raký, Altýnbaţ and Tekirdađ are the brand names that meant ‘’raký’’ to raký lovers so long in Turkey. They also have Misket, which is a varietal raký. It is prepared from single grapes of Sultaniye (Sultana) and Misket (Muscat). In addition, Mey has Izmir, which is distilled with mastic.

Efe is a new company and quickly created a market among raký consumers. Efe also means a folk man of the Aegean region. Efe has Blue Efe that is classical raký, Green Efe that is prepared with fresh grapes and Black Efe that is distilled 3 times. In addition, Efe has Organic Raký made of organicly produced and certified raisins and aniseed.

Aniseed is the seed of anise that is a flowering plant 1 m. tall. Anise seed (pimpinella anisum) is a sweet and very aromatic herb that helps breathing and relieves colds and flu. Besides, it has warming, gas and pain relieving effects.

The Turks would give you a long list about the benefits of this sweet and aromatic liquor. They all must be right! Some people drink it straight, some other by adding water. When water is added to raki, aniseed reveals itself by whitening the liquor. Therefore those habitually sit at the raký table with meze (appetizers) call it ‘’lion’s milk’’. The liquid is milk color or drinker is lion or after drinking one feels like a lion or … Again, they must be all right, surely! Raký is a medicinal drink! Every medicine has some certain amount. This liquor is something between 45-50 % alcoholic. If you drink too much it will be surely “snake’s milk’’ and you will begin crawling…

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