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  • Counting the alcohol proof of the 'water that burns'Counting the alcohol proof of the 'water that burns'© Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
  • © Yiannis Markakis
Crete as we Live it

Raki Party

November in Crete means rainy evenings accompanied by distilled grape juice, grilled meat, roasted potatoes and good friends gathering together to perform the ritual of raki making. The whole process ('wrapped up' in the term rakokazano, meaning ‘raki boiler’) is the most ‘intoxicating’ Cretan custom – and perhaps our favorite!

 

Cretazine Tips

  • If you haven’t spotted any ‘suspicious’ smokes or if you don’t know anybody to invite you to a rakokazano, ask the locals if there is one around the time you are there. You can always ask us too!
  • The ‘scientific’ description of the raki-making process is summarized here: The grapes are crushed in special stone constructions called "patitiria", or in wine presses. This can be done by foot or with small machinery. The remains in the patitiria, after most of the grape juice has been removed, is allowed to ferment and then is distilled. Traditional distilleries are comprised of large copper boilers and include long copper funnels on top so that the steam can escape. The funnels, which pass through barrels placed on the sides of the distillation flask and are filled with cold water, end up on the outside of the barrels, on top of empty glass containers. Herbage is first placed on the bottom of the boilers which are then filled with the grape remains (called strafila) and a little water or wine, hermetically sealed and finally placed onto the bonfires. The hot steam passes into the funnel and as it then travels through the barrel of cold water, it condenses and liquidates. In approximately a half an hour, the warm raki begins to fall drop by drop, on the other side of the funnel, into the glass containers. During process the owners of the boilers taste for alcohol content, increase or decrease the heat and finally stop distillation when the raki has acquired the desired taste. The raki is fine at 17 degrees Baumé (40% alc.), or sometimes 18 degrees Baumé (43% alc.).
Published in  Cretan Tales
//  Written by Sissy Papadogianni
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If you find yourself in the Cretan countryside from about the end of October to mid-December, you will spot ‘suspicious’ smokes coming out from ‘unsuspected’ places. This is a sign from the god of alcohol telling you that ‘raki making takes place on that spot’. Follow the signs and enter the distillery, even if you are not invited. The chances are you will soon join the party and enjoy good food, making new friends and -of course- large amounts of raki (aka tsikoudia)! If you come early enough and have a strong liver, you can try the first raki that comes out (known as protoraki), which is the strongest with the highest alcohol proof.

Rakokazano is not a typical process to make raki. It is actually a ritual deeply rooted in Cretan culture. The entire process becomes a celebration in which friends and relatives take part by bringing food and desserts and sampling the drink as it is being made. Distilleries are usually small family-run factories, combining the technological facilities of raki making and the ones of a tavern (tables, kitchen, ect) in one space. The ‘host’ is the family whose raki is being made, who is also the main responsible for the well-being of the guests while the distillery owners take care of the ‘technical’ part of the process and everybody waits for the ‘water that burns’ to appear. 

If you are lucky, you might experience an ‘after’ raki party, with DJs and drunken guests dancing in the mud in the middle of the fields and barrels vibrating in the rhythm

As people gradually get in the mood and the atmosphere fills with the smell of alcohol, a mandolin or lyra appears and declares the musical opening of the feast.

Although most distilleries are simple and family run, others are more fancy and modern. In any case, the ‘ritual’ is the same and a good time is guaranteed. If you are lucky, you might experience an ‘after’ raki party, with DJs, electronic music and drunken guests dancing in the mud in the middle of the fields while barrels vibrate in the rhythm. We recently experienced it, and it was the most surreal party we ever attended ;-)