In the old part of Sarajevo, near the imposing Gazi-Husrev Beg Mosque, is the Baščaršija Fountain, an Ottoman-style wooden structure that gushes water day and night. According to local legend, visitors who drink from this fountain will one day return to Sarajevo. As a hiker with an inextinguishable urge to travel, I avidly drank myself after having already enjoyed three delicious days in this haunting capital.
However, the water in the town square was not the only thing I drank during my visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina that made me swear to come back. I also had the pleasure of soaking up rakia, a locally produced fruit brandy popular in the region.
I first tasted this pleasantly sweet and mellow spirit in my guesthouse, where they held evening rakia tastings in the main lounge. Each night would present a different variety. A new bottle would be opened and shared among the guests in small glasses. We talked, toasted and told stories to the last drop.
Rakia is forged from a range of fruits, with plums and grapes being the most common. Others include apricots, peaches, cherries, blackberries, pears, apples, and figs. Most of the rakia I drank in Bosnia consisted of mixed fruits. Sometimes honey or herbs are added to enhance the flavor. Considered the national drink of the Balkans, it is often served as a welcome toast to guests.
I enjoyed the mild flavor which went as smoothly as the stimulating conversation between my fellow travelers. The sweetness of the fruit was just enough to mask the high proof, but not enough to become cloying. It had a delicate but unmistakable deep rounded flavor, perfect for temperate breezy evenings.
If you want to have your own rakia tasting, you don’t need to take a flight to Europe. You can just go to Capitol Hill. Ambar, the first Balkan restaurant in Washington DC, serves 33 varieties of rakia, including Cherry Zaric Koketa, Apricot Hubert, Raspberry Gazdina, and Quince Srpska Trojka.
Ambar is currently running a rakia tasting challenge until January 14, Serbian New Year’s Day. Customers can download a digital tasting card that lists each of the 33 flavors. The results of each tasting will be documented with a confirmation stamp.
Upon completion, guests will receive a grand prize of a special personalized 750ml Rakia bottle, which will be housed in a private locker in Ambar. Additionally, once guests reach 10, 20, and 30 rakia tastings, they will receive1.5 free ounces of Rakia.
As a cocktail lover, I immediately noticed the Rakia libations on Ambar’s menu, which included an old-fashioned classic with the addition of rakia and Apricot Collins and pre-fruit Quince Up. .
“Usually it is consumed as a neat drink, but in order to introduce Rakia to the US market, we have a lot of Rakia cocktails available,” explains Uros Jojic, Managing Director of Ambar. “Usually colorless unless aged, it can be a perfect substitute for vodka, gin, rum or any other popular drink used for cocktails. It has a strong fruity taste before so it perfectly complements the other ingredients that are part of the cocktail. In other words, if you plan to make an apricot-flavored cocktail, you don’t necessarily need to add syrups that contain apricot as an ingredient. Apricot Rakia will. “
Even though I don’t know when I will be able to fulfill my destiny announced by the Baščaršija fountain, I can still venture practically far away with a sip of rakia.
1 oz of Rakia plum
1 ounce Bourbon
0.5 oz cane syrup
3 dashes of bitter
Preperation: Pour the cane syrup and bitters into a rock glass, and stir until the syrup is saturated with bitters, fill the glass with ice cubes and add the rakia plum and bourbon, stir with a mixing spoon, decorate with an orange zest and a cocktail cherry.