Finding best brandy: Europe to Latin AmericaTuesday, May 24, 2016 Food and drinks by Kate Rutkovskaya
Travelling is probably one of the most popular hobbies nowadays. For many people it’s not even a hobby but rather a lifestyle.
We all travel for various reasons: business, leisure, sightseeing, region-specific sports.
Some explore exotic cultures, others – local cuisine.
And among those fond of gastronomic tourism there’s a very specific group of travellers who particularly enjoy exploring national beverages, whether they’re alcoholic or not, from all over the world.
We have found one of those travellers and asked him to contribute to our blog by writing about the most exceptional type of drinks he ever tried when travelling. And here’s what we got.
Magic of distillation
One of the most impressive heritages of the medieval civilisation was the invention of the distillation process.
Having its roots in the early Middle Ages as experiments for obtaining different chemicals, this method quickly found its application for the production of spirits from fermented fruits, and above all, the grapes.
Thus, a new kind of beverages was invented in countries with a pretty good climate – a fruit brandy.
The process itself is quite simple and allows producing spirits from almost any kinds of fruits that contain enough sugar.
These drinks have gained exceptional popularity in Southern Europe mostly, although similar beverages can be found in Central European countries as well.
Outside Europe, the popularity of such beverages decreases.
However, it should be noted that the grape distillation technology in South America was born almost in parallel with the European one, and has a significant influence on the local drinking culture.
Let’s make a brief observation – in which countries the fruit brandy has managed to become a national trademark for travellers?
Best Brandy of Balkan Countries
The Balkan Peninsula, a much-troubled territory in Southeast Europe, boasts of very distinct culture which is expressed mostly in its unique cuisine and music.
Also this region is homeland of the famous director of Black Cat, White Cat – Emir Kusturica – who’s also the winner of multiple movie awards, like Golden Palm from Cannes Film Festival, Special Jury Prize at Berlin Film Festival, an Oscar nomination and many more.
If you ever seen a Kusturica’s movie you’re able to get the special flair of this region.
If you haven’t – here’s a short extract.
You’ve probably grasped the message that drinking culture is part of national identity here.
The Balkan region include such countries like Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (this is one country, okay), Kosovo, Macedonia, and some others.
If you’re travelling around the region, you probably want to take The Balkan Flexipass, which is the local alternative to the well-know Eurostar.
It will easily take you from one country to another at high speed and low cost.
Among all Balkan countries Bulgaria can rightly be considered as the capital of fruit distillates.
The name of the beverage here is “rakia“.
Nowhere else in the world such great variety of rakia flavours exists!
The most popular fruit for the rakia production here is the grape.
Bulgarians call it “grozdova rakia” (“grape brandy”).
This product is available almost everywhere in Bulgaria: in each restaurant, cafe or shop.
Of course, you can find different strengths and tastes of brandy, so be prepared to the fascinating processes of degustation.
Besides grapes, Bulgarian brandy can be made from plums, apricots, pears, apples, quinces and even blackberries.
There are many manufacturers of fruit brandy in Bulgaria.
They produce it both by industrial and homemade methods.
Technologies of distillation and recipes of beverages are distinct in different parts of the country.
If you come to ex-Yugoslavian states like Serbia or Croatia, you’ll find out that, Unlike Bulgaria, the plum brandy (“shlivovitza”) is much more popular than grape kinds of rakia (“lozovacha”).
In these countries they drink it in small portions of 30 grams compared to 50 in Bulgaria.
In the countries of this region, along with sweet fruit distillates, there is a quite popular herbal drink titled “travaritsa”.
In contrast to the above-described fruit drinks, it has quite a bitter taste.
In my humble opinion, it exists for connoisseurs of local alcoholic delights or for those native people who got used drinking beverages of such kind.
Also, I would like to add that in these countries excellent distillates “Viljamovka” are made from the same sort of pears.
As we move a bit to the North, to the Carpathian region – in Romania we may discover that there is the most popular distillate: so-called “tsuika” (╚¢uic─â).
This beverage is produced strictly from plums and usually is around 28% alc/vol.
Usually, tsuika is made from early October until early December, when the entire crop is already harvested and the winemaking process is also completed.
A stronger version of tsuika is called “palinka“, which is produced in double-distillation mode.
Also, palinka can be made not only from plums but also from any other sweet fruits, just like rakia in the Balkan region.
The name “palinka” is contested between Romania and neighbour Hungary, where local people also consider it as their national beverage.
This area has its distinct spirit due to its geopolitical state – situated at the boarder of Eastern Europe and Western Asia the region has been the battle field for multiple political and cultural rivalries for centuries. Thus, national characters of locals are also determined by their tough history. Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran and Turkey are considered parts of Transcaucasia.
Georgians are very proud of their excellent wines – and they have all rights to be.
Upon arrival at the Tbilisi airport every tourist get a bottle of Georgian wine together with a stamp at passport control.
But besides their excellent wines, Georgia is famous for its fine distillate, which is called “chacha“.
It is a strong local brandy, produced from pomace grapes by fermentation, and afterwards by single or double distillation.
Each local handicraft manufacturer has its own old family recipe, adding an exceptional uniqueness to its beverage.
Some kinds of chacha are aged in oak barrels – it gives them a specific taste.
Sometimes, chacha in Georgia might be produced not only from grapes, but also figs, tangerines, oranges, plums or mulberry.
Usually consumed in a pure form, it is also used for making various cocktails with fresh fruits and ice.
In Georgia, chacha is considered as a symbol of tradition and longevity, and is consumed ubiquitously.
In the neighbouring country – Armenia, the most popular distillate is called “artsakh”, which is usually produced from mulberry, cornel, apricots or pears.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Spanish colonists on the territories of South America faced the difficulties of exporting their wine to their motherland.
The government of Spain imposed restrictions on grape wine import from colonies to protect the interests of local producers.
However, shifty colonists found the decision to that problem – they started to produce distillate from the grapes and ship it to Spain, Italy and other countries in the world.
Thus, the famous Latin-American distillate was born.
It was called “pisco“, which means “something boiled in a pot” in the local Indian dialect.
Ever since two countries of Latin America – Peru and Chile are struggling for the honour to be called the motherland of pisco.
Nowadays, it is a very popular beverage in these countries, which could be considered as a genuine must-try for tourists.
Also, Pisco Sour cocktail based mostly on picso and lemon juice have gained its popularity all over the world as an ambassador of the South-American drinking culture.
And take care.
Kate feat. Secret Guest