The Art of Raki

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

In Albania, Raki is steadfast tradition and a must have in all households as it is served to guests, it is also the toasting or salute beverage of the country to honor any loss or celebration such as a marriage or new child.

**Fun fact, my roots in the US go back to the settler's by the legendary name 'The Hatfields', as in the 'Hatfield and McCoys' family feud and known moonshiners. Who knew my ancestry research would show true skills are past down over the generations, ha ha. **

Moonshine aka Raki is a distilled alcohol made from fermented fruit. The leftover grape mush post wine withdrawl is left to ferment for an additional 10 days with an added mixture of heated water with dissolved sugar. Why the added sugar? The sugar helps further break down the fruit and raise the alcohol levels when distilled. Total fermentation of the grape mush will be around 28-32 days.

Items required before we began our distillation: nice weather with no rain as we are outside and need to keep a fire lit, plenty of firewood for said fire, alcohol level meter, containers sterilize and ready, and loads of patience.

When we moved the fermented mush from the barrel to the still, we removed the stems to reduce any bitterness. We also added some raki from last year to strengthen the first batch, this step is not required but does assist with getting started.

To seal the still we used a paste made of flour and water at each joint.

The still set up pictured below is custom made by a local craftsman near Lezhe. The blue barrel is filled with water to insulate the pipe running to the spout at the bottom and Art whittled a stick down to add to the spout for the alcohol to exit in a fluid stream.

Once the alcohol starts a steady stream we always inspect for clarity and quality before putting the container down to collect. Also we always place a filter, clean dry white cotton, to catch any loose particles when distilling and filter again once the batch is ready to be bottled.

Patience is key, the fire needs to be held at a steady point so no smoke exits the spout with the alcohol. This process is very tedious but creates a better product in the end.

After the first hour we measure the alcohol levels and will continue until the initial batch reaches 20 degrees. Once we have achieved this we move the first batch out and filter into a sterilized glass container, this is essentially ready to serve.

The second container still collecting is called 'karrabash' and this weaker portion is used to help strengthen the next batch we distill. We can increase the fire a bit at this point and once the alcohol level reaches 5 degrees, we remove the collection and start the break down of the still. First by breaking the seals and then by cleaning out each of the pieces, minus the water in the blue barrel. We just add additional water each time.

Each batch takes around six hours to distill, and this year we made seven batches.

The video below highlights steps of this year's production. Cheers!

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