History of Serbian rakiya
It is uncertain when the Serbs began to make rakiya. But it was definitely in those ancient times when, as an ancient Slavs, had arrived in this country, a bit tipsy from the mead they learned to make in the back of the Carpathians, their homeland. And they found vineyards here, that had been planted by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and kept nurtured by the Byzantines.
Even Dušan's Code, enacted in 1354, issues severe penalties for heavy drinking, in paragraph 166.
No one knows who, or even when, brought the first copper brandy still in Serbia, but according to the saved Turkish laws, there had been a tax on each brandy still, in amount to 12 akçe (Ottoman Empire monetary unit). When the Turks began retreating from these areas, and the large Ottoman Empire had been exhaling as a dying man on the Bosphorus, rakiya became a symbol of freedom, the victory over Islam, which had been prohibiting the alcohol. The Serbs have always been appreciating rakiya more than a wine, because one can, much faster, reach the blessed state of drunkenness.
Customs and Curiosities rakiya
One comes and goes from this world with rakiya.*
One wouldn't go to without rakiya the army, neither to the war, church, familly or friend visits, nor on the road, when flask is often the only luggage.*
The Serbs are probably the only nation that drink rakiya as a tea. It is a kind of a hot rakiya, boiled on toasted sugar, with some cloves added, just for a flavor, and it's called – Shumadiyske tchay (Sumadija's tea).*
Finally, it's a custom to leave one bottle on the grave of the deceased , who used to like to drink, or even to spill a drop or two for the repose of his soul on the funeral or memorial service.*
No matter how good a Christian and Orthodox he is, there is a pagan still living inside every Serb, who share worldly goods with their dead, as if they were still alive. And so Ivana poures rakiya into a glass and takes it to the nearby grave of her grandfather Gvozden, and places it on the stone monument and cross herself.*
There was no significant person in Serbian history, who had not been holding a flask filled with plum brandy by his side, on horseback or in the office, near weapons or pen. Grand Leader Karadjordje cannot do without it and the most often cuts the Turks under its influence. Prince Milos drinks only rakiya ... Royal General Draza Mihailovic holds military brass flask while sitting on a prison bed on his last picture taken just before the execution.*
One celebrates the birth of a child with rakiya, and especially with the one from a barrel that has been buried in the ground for years, waiting for such opportunity.*
What makes us unique in the world of spirits is certainly plum brandy called sljivovica, and it's the one made by the famous plum called Pozegaca, which grows the best around towns Valjevo, Kraljevo, Cacak and Ivanjica. It is also knowed as Madzarka, since famous merchant and philanthropist Sava Tekelija transported its seedlings by his boats from Hungary to Serbia, across the Sava River in the beginning of the last century. Coming from Asia to Hungary, this plum ended its long journey in Serbia. Surprisingly, having taken with us, this plum finally found the most suitable land to develop its hidden values - its dark blue fruits contain much more meat and sweet juice than other species, as well as an unusual flavor that comes from its skin and seeds, giving special bouquet to rakiya. It is simply impossible to distill nearly as good drink out of Hungarian plums, of which Madzarka originated, as from Serbian one. Basically, no one in the world except the Serbs make the plum brandy, and if does, it is only a mild, failed shadow of the original one, mentioned in the Large Larousse Encyclopedia as the only determinant that stands out with its uniqueness this small nation in the Balkans from others.*
Why is it a plum brandy, and not something else? Probably because of an inimitable taste of Pozegaca's fruits that lies in every sip of this beverage. Sun, rain and wind, the beauty of white plum's bloom in spring, tucked by the snows in winter. The character of the people making i t is hidden in its strength. There is something purely orthodox in plum brandy which set it apart from other beverages in the world. Same as Russian, a Serbian peasant crosses oneself piously, before having a glass of rakiya. If only the Serbs were those who had invented Christianity, they would most certainly, be taking a sip of rakiya with the wafer for communion, instead of red wine.*
And the very process of distillation in brandy still is a magical ritual. Many folk songs were sung around the brandy still, and a special narrative style was born out of the smell of rakiya's vapor.*
* Novel "Ivana", Momo Kapor, Serbian writer