THE MAKING OF TSIPOURO - RAKI - TSIKOUDIA ON CRETE

 

The making of 'tsipouro', raki or in Crete 'tsikoudia'  is as much a tradition as the production of bread. The name tsipouro is used throughout the country, except for Crete, where the same spirit with a stronger aroma is known as 'tsikoudia'. In fact the making of tsipouro came about because of wine. As tsipouro is produced from the 'tsipoura' (dross) that is left after the must has been pressed from the grapes. August is the season of vine harvest. The whole family work happily together in the vineyards harvesting the grapes of that year. They separate the grapes used for raisins from the ones used for the production of wine or raki. The latter are placed inside large containers to be pressed so that the juice will be separated from the solid residues, their seeds and skin.

 

The most important tool is the still, this has a number of names and is called the levitas or leventi or kasani. The tsipoura is placed inside, the lid is then closed and sealed with dough, this is to prevent any loss of alcohol. A fire is then lit under the still. 

 

  
From the cap of the still a tube runs through cold water where the vapour condenses and the resulting liquid is collected in bottles. This process is repeated a number of times because the liq
uid originally contains some water. To give the tsipouro an aroma the farmers add herbs to the still, such as fennel, cardamom, cinnamon flowers or coriander, aniseed, myrtle, eucalyptus. Often fruits are added and the best tsipouro is produced by using koumara (wild strawberries).

In some places of Crete people make a variety of tsikoudia, called 'Mournoraki'. This is coloured red and is distilled from mulberries. It is quite rare and even stronger than normal. When honey is added it is known as 'Rakomelo'.

 

Turkish raki is the country's traditional drink and has a history dating back some 300 years, however it is not the same as the Cretan one. In most middle eastern countries the same sounding and tasting drinks Araka, Araki, Ariki  are all made the same way from the must. Some even claim that it is called Iraqi (from Iraq) because it was first made in that country and then spread to other regions.
 

The discovery of a number of 'pithoi' (large clay storage jars) that had petrified remains of grapes and grape pips, tells us that the Minoan makers knew a process of fermentation/distillation similar to traditional methods used today. 


Most home made alcoholic beverages (moonshine or firewater) have been made all over the world mainly as a result historically through poverty. Tsipouro and tsikoudia are no exception and are mainly produced in poor soil.  Every year, after the vines have been pruned, the vines provide wood for the fire, the grape leaves for cooking, stuffed with all manner of things, lamb wrapped in vine leaves with tzatziki, swordfish, and of course rice. The grapes for wine, as a fruit, in a dessert, some  dried for raisins and sultanas. Some of the grape must is used to make molasses, which when combined with flour become must-jelly. 
 

As well as a very potent alcoholic drink, the spirit is approximately 36 per cent in volume, it is also used as a flavouring for desserts and fruit conserves and is also used as a medicinal rub and is claimed to be a medicine for many ordinary diseases, like a cold, a toothache, a headache or diarrhoea.

As a tourist going to Crete there is a huge probability that you will be offered at least 1 glass of raki. However as with most spirits, you should never drink it on an empty stomach. Either have it after your meal or with snacks, crisps or nuts, and remember this - an empty glass to a Cretan is a sign that you liked it and they will happily give you a refill. Even though you were hoping this would not happen !  
  

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