My first encounter with rakija productionkazani
“Hey, I’m helping my father and his friends make rakija tomorrow. Do you want to come and help and see how it’s done?”
“Uh, yea!” was my immediate response. I had arrived in Serbia from New Jersey little more than a month or two earlier. Rakija is a ubiquitous product in Serbia and I was starting to develop a taste for the stuff. It’s nearly unheard of to enter a Serbian home as a guest and not be offered a glass. It’s just good manners and it’s ingrained in the culture. I have an inquiring mind and curiosity was getting the better of me. Everyone claims to make their own so I wanted to see how it was done. I told myself if I’m going to live here, this is something I should know about. Besides that, the whole process of distillation was interesting and enticing for me so I jumped at the opportunity to check it out first hand.
I didn’t really know my way around the little town of Vršac so well at this point, so my friend Boba and I made arrangements to meet at some corner I was familiar with. Together we walked to the location where “the action” was. Now I have never experienced love at first site with a woman, but when I walked through that gate and saw that “happy machine” turning out rakija, I was in love immediately. The sight of that copper monstrosity belching out smoke while rakija poured out of the condenser made my heart flutter. The very instant I saw my first kazan za rakiju, my first thought was “I want one of THOSE, and I want to do THIS”!
It’s not just that the whole process of distillation is interesting. Nor is it just the sense of pride and accomplishment you get when you first try your very own “domaće” which immediately attracted me to this process. After all, it would be several years before I distilled my first successful batch from sour cherries (višnja), so I couldn’t underatand that pride just yet. No. What immediately drew me in was how friends all got together to pitch in and help, it was the sense of community which I enjoyed so much.
I’m sure a lot of people reading this have participated in this process before, but for those who haven’t let me tell you…making rakija in Serbia is an EVENT! You’re friends and neighbors come by. Wives and daughters are constantly offering and bringing coffee. Sausages are put on a stick and roasted right inside the furnace of the still, the belly of the beast if you will. Plates filled with pickled vegetables (turšija), bacon (suva slanina), and čvarci (don’t know the English word for that one) are constantly being placed on the table. Everyone helps and hangs out and jokes around. Cooked rakija is served to keep the workers warm since it’s usually a winter activity. I couldn’t remember the last time I had so much fun or had been fed and liquored up so well without spending a penny. It was great! I was hooked.
Everyone there noticed the smile and the look of awe, amazement and excitement on my face. Boba was acting as my translator since I didn’t know a word of Serbian at this point. I was full of questions and they were all too happy to answer. At one point Boba’s father looks at me and smiles, raises his glass of wine at me at says, “When we make rakija, we drink wine, when we make wine, we drink rakija. And when we are finished with everything, we drink it all”! This drew a hearty round of laughter from our merry and somewhat inebriated band of friends and neighbors. It was at that moment I thought “I could really get used to this”.