Crete is the largest and most populated of the Greek islands. On Crete, as in many areas of Greece and the Mediterranean, drinking is a social activity. Because of this, alcohol is made available at almost every family dinner. While Greeks drink wine, beer, and other types of alcoholic beverages, Raki is a very popular alcoholic drink. Raki is associated solely with the island of Crete. In fact, according to the European Union or EU, alcoholic drinks can only be labeled as Raki if the drink has been made on Crete itself.
Raki – Official Drink of Crete
Raki, or Tsikoudia, is often used as a symbol of Crete. It’s been said that the drink is symbolic of the not only the island, but also of its culture. Raki is commonly used when hosts welcome guests, and is often served in taverns and bars on the island.
Raki has a deliciously sweet flavor and is made from grapes. The drink might be mixed with honey or cinnamon, or just served plain. In many cases, families make their own Raki which is served only on special occasions. This beverage is not to be confused with Turkish Raki, which actually tastes more like Ouzo.
How Raki is Made
Raki is transparent in color and has been compared to gin or vodka. However, it more closely resembles Italian Grappa. Raki is distilled, and the distilling usually begins in the fall after the grapes have been harvested. The first of the Raki is ready in late fall. It’s tradition in many Cretan families to have a big gathering on the night that the first glass of the season is tasted. This usually happens in October or November.
Raki is still made the way that it has been made for centuries. In order to make the popular drink, Raki enthusiasts use the stafylla or the discarded bits of grapes that were used to make the juice for wine. Raki is made by putting grape skins, pulp, and seeds into a barrel and letting the ingredients ferment for about a month. Then, the stafylla is distilled in special cauldron.
Drinking Legally on Crete
Long ago, Greece’s prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos created Raki permits. In order to distill the drink, farmers had to get a license in order to make and sell it. Today, there is at least one resident of each town on Crete who has a license to make and sell Raki.
The legal drinking age on Crete is 18 as of a new law enacted in 2009. In tourist areas, you can see signs posted to this effect. According to locals, you can enter a bar at any age.
Process of Distilling Raki
A Raki cauldron is made of a pot, a lid, and a pipe for the steam. Usually, the cauldron is put in a fireplace over a fire of moderate temperature. There’s definitely an art to creating the perfect Raki fire; the fire can’t be too strong, or too weak in order to properly distill. Raki is served chilled in a shot glass. It’s usually served without ice.
If you visit Greece, tasting Cretan Raki is definitely something that must be done! Note that in many places in Crete, Raki is often given “on the house”. It is meant to be sipped. The faster you drink it, the faster the glass is filled. Your best bet is to sip it and to always drink it with food!