What to do with Rakia?
You know the drill; you go on holiday, drink some random local spirit that you can’t pronounce, spy some in the airport on the way home, pick it up thinking it will bring track memories of hot summer days, get home and find that it now tastes less than palatable. There’s nothing like being on holiday to make you think that the worlds worst spirit is in fact an undiscovered delicacy. So when I was set the challenge of creating tasty cocktail or two from a randomly selected ‘local’ spirit from somewhere in the world, I wasn’t expecting great things, but I was up for giving it a go.
The gaunlet was set by travel firm Cox and King’s who specialise in tailor-made holidays and had asked their customers to bring back bottles of locally-produced spirit from their travels. Unsuspecting bloggers like myself, Ginmonkey and The London Cocktail Guide are then challenged to create delicious cocktails from whatever we are sent. Sure enough a slender blue bottle of Bulgarian Rakia was shortly sitting pretty on my desk and I was beginning to ask what I had let myself in for.
Rakia is produced from the distillation of different types of fruit, and apparently is a popular beverage in several areas of the world including the Balkans; indeed several claim it to be their national drink. A quick Google of the name on my bottle revealed it to be produced from muscat grapes and apparently being deserving of gold medals at the San Diego critics challenge 2004 and the Monterray International Wine Festival 2005. Perhaps I would be in for a treat. Tasting neat reveals a distinct taste of muscat and consequential sweetness. It is reminiscent of Genever with a good whack of maltiness and just a hint of spice. The initial taste was surprisingly ‘OK’ but a burning and astringent finish with definite hints of nail polish remover means it won’t be making my ‘sipping list’.
So this was certainly going to take a bit of mixing to make a remotely enjoyable drink. Apparently it is often blended with honey and herbs in its home country so that seemed like a decent place to start. I was slightly loathed to waste my nice pot of Scottish heather honey on this product but if anything was going to soften up the harshness, this would be it. A quick forage in the garden also revealed my lavender bush to have an abundance of fresh flowers and thus I was set. A good spoonful of honey, a handful of lavender flowers and approx 200ml Rakia were soon finding their way into my cream whipper which was double charged with nitrogen and intermittently shaken for the next few hours. What emerged was a decidedly sweet but fragrant and actually reasonably tasty infusion. A bit of sour, some bitters and maybe another herb was all that was needed.
The Herbs and the Bees
50ml honey and lavender Peshterska Rakia, 20ml lemon juice, two dash Dr Elmegirab Spanish bitters, small sprig of lemon thyme
Muddle lemon thyme in base of shaker and add rest of ingredients. Shake with ice and fine strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with lemon thyme.
I figured that honey and lavender infusions might not be everyone’s idea of a quick cocktail to make at home so I set about creating something just a little easier to whizz up with that random bottle you might have lying around. If there is ever a sure way of making any ‘interesting’ spirit a bit more palatable then it is fruit. Raiding the fridge revealed a fresh punnet of raspberries just frying out to be used and son enough I found myself with another surprisingly tasty libation.
50ml Peshterska Rakia, 20ml limejuice, 5ml Maraschino, two dash orange bitters, 8 raspberries.
Muddle raspberries in base of shaker, add rest of ingredients and shake with ice. Fine strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a raspberry and mint sprig.