by Bozhidara Georgieva

Rakiya is an indispensable part of life in this country. Consume it responsibly and with pleasure 

The eyes of the Frenchman in the company that is sitting in a popular Sofia restaurant become round from surprise. The Bulgarians he is sharing the table with one after another order a strange drink as an aperitif.

"You want to start with something like Calvados?," asks he, astonished, when the explanations are finally over. "But such drinks are digestifs!"

"No, here they are not," answers the table and starts laughing, because the Frenchman's astonishment is on the verge of turning into an outrage.

Then the first plates of Shopska salad arrive and the Frenchman's ire subsides.

Many nations and cultures have specific high alcoholic drinks of distilled fruit. Besides the Calvados made of apple cider, France also makes Eau de vie. There is Grappa in Italy, and drinks like Pálinka in Central Europe, while in Germany they have Schnapps. Bulgaria falls in the area of Rakiya – a drink known and beloved all over the Balkans, although under different names, from Romania to Greece and Turkey.

The principles of production of this type of high alcoholic beverages are common, but each nation and even some regions have their own specificities and traditions. Bulgaria is not an exception. Here Rakiya is consumed during meal, with the starters, accompanied by a salad, pickles or another appetiser. The aim of this combination is to stimulate the appetite, to ease the conversation and to create a sense of community among the diners. It is hardly a coincidence that the drink has become one of the Bulgarian symbols for hospitality and friendship. This is also evident in expressions such as "they have their Rakiya together," meaning "they are close acquaintances," and "let's sit, let's have a Rakiya and let's get over it," meaning "let's solve this problem amicably."

Rakiya should be well cooled when served. There is one time when it should be hot – when it is mulled with honey, as a remedy against winter cold. This is the only time when it is not drank as an aperitif, but depending on the situation.

Nobody knows since exactly when do Bulgarians drink Rakiya. According to some, this might have happened as early as the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, in the 13th-14th centuries. More probably, however, technology of alcohol distillation, which is an Arab discovery, was introduced to the Bulgarians after the Ottoman invasion.

In the following centuries the innovation gradually began to win over the hearts of the Bulgarians and to evolve, becoming a local tradition. Bulgarian lands proved to be fertile ground for such transformation. In them grow abundant fruits and vines, the result of the region's century-old viticulture traditions. According to historians, the inhabitants of mountainous regions started distilling Rakiya first. In support of this idea can be cited the fact that in the 18th century it was in such a region, Troyan in the Stara Planina mountain, where large-scale production of Rakiya commenced in Bulgaria. That was Troyanska Slivova Rakiya, made of plums, which to this day is beloved by connoisseurs. Gradually, production of Rakiya reached the plains where there was an abundance of proper ingredients: grapes. This is probably why even today Grozdova, or grape, Rakiya is the most widespread variety of the beverage in Bulgaria. For comparison, in neighbouring Serbia plum Rakiya dominates.

In the 19th century Rakiya was already an established part of the Bulgarian life. We can even find it, mentioned in passing, in texts of classical Bulgarian literature. In this period already existed two interesting, but still largely unknown regional Rakiyas: aniseed Rakiya from Karlovo, made of grapes and with aniseeds added during distillation, and Rakiya from oil-bearing rose, typical for Kazanlak and Karlovo.

Industrial production of Rakiya started after the restoration of the Bulgarian state in 1878. Then were developed also specific varieties such as Muskatova Rakiya from the dessert grape Muscat Ottonel.

Rakiya is made of fermented fruit or wine, which are distilled under specific conditions. The result is a clear liquid. The drink gets its distinctive colour – ranging from pale yellow to amber – during maturation. In homemade ones this happens with putting a splinter of mulberry or oak wood in the bottle. In industrial ones it is achieved with maturation in oak or mulberry barrels.

The alcoholic content of Rakiya varies. According to the Bulgarian State Standard, a Rakiya should be at least 36º. Industrial varieties are around 40º. Homemade Rakiyas are stronger, with alcoholic contents at around 60º.

Usually Rakiya is distilled only once. Connoisseurs and industrial producers of high quality Rakiya can distil it two or three times.

Due to its prominence in Bulgarian culture, Rakiya has a halo of something special, authentic, traditional. This is so, but one of the side effects is overstating the qualities of homemade Rakiya. In the country there is hardly a large village without a distillery everyone can use. For many families it is a matter of honour to make their own drink, to give it to guests and to boast with its qualities.

Sadly, most of the people who make their own Rakiya are hardly connoisseurs. For many of them the alcoholic content is more important than the taste and the quality of the drink. As a result, drinking such Rakiya can have dire consequences. Heavy headache on the morning after is the most innocent of those.

The only way to be sure that the Rakiya in our glass was made in accordance with all the rules, and that after reasonable consummation it will leave only pleasant memories, is to drink only industrial spirits by proven producers.

In the past few years, the Bulgarian Rakiya scene has gotten more diverse. It experiments and is on the search of a new face.

How does Bulgarian Rakiya look like at the moment?

Grape Rakiya continues to dominate the tastes, while Troyanska Slivova has a cult status. Some producers expanded their variety of tastes. Besides well-known and beloved, but still exotic, varieties such as Rakiya from apricot, quince and figs, today are also available varieties of apples, pears, cherries.

Consumers are not indifferent to these changes and boldly search for their next favourite flavour. Some bars even offer cocktails with Rakiya.

The question if Bulgarians will accept the idea of having Rakiya as a digestif remains open. Some producers create special high class Rakiyas designed to be consumed after eating. Will this radical change become a part of the everyday life or will it remain something exotic for the few initiated ones? As so many times in the long history of Bulgarian Rakiya, this is a question that only time can answer. 


    Commenting on

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

On 11-13 November 2022 wine lovers and professionals from Bulgaria and abroad will gather for the 11th edition of DiVino.Taste. The event will take place at Inter Expo Centre Sofia and is organised by DiVino, a specialised media outlet.

Summer is no summer without beer. Cold and in a pleasantly sweaty glass, it gives us a gulp of freshness in the heat, accompanies us on the beach and at the restaurant, waits for us in the fridge to return home from work.
On the verge of 2020, Bulgaria's wine scene is diverse, active, bubbling with new suggestions.
Stomach is not only the sole way to men's heart. The rule is valid for anyone who is in a foreign country and wants to get to know it.
Walking around central Sofia in the couple of past years means to immerse yourself in a cosmopolitain atmosphere: the sidewalks are crowded by people from all continents and the lively conversations of Greek, Israeli, Indian, Italian, Turkish, Spanish and S
There were exceptions, of course, when everyone just loved the wine offered.
Recently, getting to know Sofia's culinary pleasures have become a sight in its own right. A variety of culinary traditions, innovations, experiments, well-known and beloved suggestions – the Bulgarian capital offers a solution for every taste.
Regardless of whether we are tourists visiting a new place or we are living our ordinary lives, we are after authentic experiences and tastes. Food is probably the most significant manifestation of this trend.
Recently Sofia has experiences such a number of excellent restaurants, with menus and atmosphere to discover and fall in love with, that your head can easily spin.
In Bulgaria, Rakiya is much more than a drink: it is a part of national culture. There is hardly a festive or everyday gathering around the table to start without savouring a glass of Rakiya, accompanied by seasonal salad and appetisers.
But in the Bulgarian capital nothing can compare in diversity of the experience with the growing options for good eating.