Bulgaria has a flourishing wine industry and beer is coming into its own, but rakia is considered the national drink.
Rakia, also spelled rakiya, rachiu, greyana rakiya or rakija, is a clear alcohol similar to brandy, made by the distillation of fermented fruits (grapes, plums, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, figs, quinces). It has a high alcohol content and home concoctions sometimes exceed 60%, making it a potent drink.
In Bulgaria, rakia made from grapes (like Italian grappa) is the most popular, but slivovitz (rakia made from plums) also is popular.
Sometimes rakia is mixed with herbs, honey, sour cherries (when it becomes vishnooka) or walnuts after distillation and it takes on a dark color.
Rakia is usually drunk with appetizers known as meze and salads. Then wine or beer is consumed with the rest of the meal. If a drop of rakia happens to be spilled while pouring, it is said: "that's for the deceased." Indeed, after a funeral, a toast of rakia is made and a little is spilled on the ground for the soul of the departed. At weddings, the bride's father goes from table to table offering rakia and encouraging good wishes for the newly married couple.
It has been said, one can tell if someone had too much rakia the night before because he or she can be seen eating tripe soup and drinking cold beer for breakfast as a hangover cure.
In general, rakia is considered a sign of hospitality and every guest is offered a tiny glassful as a symbolic gesture. Here is a recipe for Serbian Rakija.
Another drink popular in Bulgaria is mastika, a strong anise-flavored drink, that is consumed chilled. When mastika is combined with menta, a liqueur made with spearmint oil, it produces a traditional cocktail called "The Cloud."
Beer and Cocktails
Bulgaria produces a range of beers -- Zagorka, Astika, Kamenitsa, Pirinsko Pivo and Shumensko Pivo. Whiskey and vodka are made in Bulgaria but with a much higher concentration of alcohol than Westerners are used to. Other locally produced and powerful drinks to watch out for are rosaliika (rose liqueur) and mastika (an aniseed liqueur similar to Greek raki or ouzo), and a cocktail called oblak, meaning "the cloud," which is made with equal portions of mastika and mentofka (a creme de menthe-type liqueur) and served over ice.
Flourishing Wine Industry
Wine making dates to the 6th century B.C. and, currently, Bulgaria is the world's fifth-largest exporter, producing everything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot to Chardonnay. The ubiquitous red plonk, similar to Italian Dago Red, delivers quite a kick.