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The tale of rakija – Croatia’s legendary liqueur

Croatian rakija - Plum brandy called šljivovica
Image by IsabelPerello

We dedicate this article to rakija, the legendary Croatian hard liqueur that is drunk on all occasions. Our grand-grand parents produced it, our parents passed on the tradition, and now we also enjoy it.

If you ever visit Croatia, don’t hesitate to try rakija. You either like it or hate it. There is no between.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

The story about Croatia’s legendary liqueur – rakija

What is exactly a Croatian liqueur rakija?

Rakija is a traditional drink of Slavic nations in Croatia as well as Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. What a cognac means to France, ouzo to Greece, sake to Japan, and tequila to Mexico – that rakija means to Croatia.

Rakija is a drink similar to brandy and vodka, made by distilling fermented fruits, nuts, or plants. It usually contains 40% alcohol, but the homemade stuff can reach 50-65% alcohol. Rakija is said to get better with age.

The original rakija is colorless and contains no sugar. If the color is muddy, then the rakija wasn’t properly made. Likely the container or fruit was dirty, giving it a cloudy appearance.

The most popular type of rakija in Croatia is made of plums. It is called šljivovica šljiva means plum in Croatian. Plum was a common and valued crop in Croatian areas, so it is logical that šljivovica was produced the most often. Its popularity still lasts.

In addition, rakija is an excellent gift for all occasions in Croatia. You simply can’t go wrong with it.

[Read: How to give a gift to a Croatian]

Types of rakija in Croatia

Different rakija types are usually named after a fruit or a plant from which they have been produced.

The most popular types of rakija in Croatia are:

  • Slavonija – šljivovica
  • Dalmacija – lozovača, travarica
  • Istra – lozovača, biska
  • Lika – šljivovica
  • Dubrovnik – orahovac
  • Zadar – maraskino

Below is a list of the most common types of rakija in Croatia.

NamePlant (Croatian name)Plant (English name)
anisanise
biskakomovica, imela, 3 vrste travegrape remains, mistletoe, 3 types of herbs
breskovačabreskvapeach
dudovačadud, murvamulberry
dunjevačadunjaquince
jabukovačajabukaapple
klekovačaklek, borovicajuniper
komadaraostaci hrane i kruhafood and bread leftovers
komovicakominagrape remains
kruškovača, viljamovkakruškapear
lozovačavino, lozawine
mareličarkakajsija, marelicaapricot
medovača, medicamedhoney
orahovicaorahwalnut
rogačušarogačcarob
ružaružarose
šljivovicašljivaplum
smokovačasmokvafig
travaricabiljeherbs
trešnjevačatrešnjacherry
višnjevačavišnjasour cherry

Šljivovica

Rakija šljivovica is made out of plums. This is the most appreciated type of rakija in Croatia, which is used on all occasions. You will find it in all cafes, restaurants, and almost every home. Šljivovica is simply a must.

The taste of šljivovica is very strong. After you drink it, you will feel the warmth all over your body. It can also be used for preparing other types of liqueurs.

Travarica

Travarica is rakija produced from different herbs that are immersed into a liter of some of the basic types of rakija like loza or komovica. These herbs usually grow in nature as wild plants. After a while, the plants release juices, taste, and aroma, and we get travarica.

[Read: Wild plants you can pick and eat during summer in Croatia]

Almost all parts of plants can be used for aromatization: roots, leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, and stem. The most common herbs used for travarica are wormwood, fennel, immortelle, pine, wild rose, spruce, laurel, marjoram, rosemary, sage, heather, hollyhock, wild rosemary, and quince.

The most appreciated herbs are the ones that grow in Lika, Gorski kotar, along the Adriatic coast, and on the mountain of Velebit.

[Read: Visiting Northern Velebit National Park]

Culture of drinking rakija in Croatia

Concert and players
Croatian jazz avant-garde orchestra Mimika drinking rakija at their concert in Zagreb in December 2022

There is no such occasion in Croatia where rakija wouldn’t be a good guest. A sip of rakija is always welcome.

We often drink it as an aperitif before meals, together with a morning coffee, when we want to warm up or chill down, at parties, when we do some physical work like grape harvesting or wood storage, or at Croatian weddings.

[Read: How to attend a Croatian wedding]

When someone asks if you want to drink nešto kratko, it usually implies rakija. Nešto kratko is literally translated as something short and it refers to a hard liqueur. You can also use this phrase if you’d like to drink any other type of hard liqueur, even if it is vodka or tequila.

Homemade rakija is called domaća rakija. It is most appreciated, and people will always recognize it. When someone offers rakija, people often ask one question before they take a sip – Je li domaća (Is it homemade)?. Apparently, domaća rakija has a much better taste and aroma than the one you buy in a shop.

Rakija is usually drunk from small colorless glasses of 0,3 deciliters. Depending on the occasion, it can be drunk in multiple ways.

If we want to make a toast, everyone gets their own small glass of rakija. After we make a toast, we drink it all at once. If you don’t feel like you can drink it, save it for later. If someone bothers you about it, just be honest and say that it is simply too strong.

However, true hedonists drink rakija drop by drop, like any other high-quality liqueur – good whiskey or vodka. If you are one of them, take your time and go with the flow. Only then will you feel its aftertaste, countless fragrances, and many stages.

Some Croats like to drink rakija in the morning, together with their coffee or separated. Rakija lovers will always have quality rakija in their home bars. They won’t hesitate to spend more money to get higher quality, and they will always buy domaća rakija.

[Read: How to buy quality products in Croatia and avoid bad ones]

Croats sometimes drink from the same bottle, for example, at a wedding or grape and olive harvesting. This can be the kind of experience that may give you the feeling of friendly intimacy with others who share the bottle. It is like a tradition.

In addition, regardless of the occasion when it is drunk, rakija is often the subject of various jokes.

How rakija is prepared in Croatia

distillation machine
Modern kettle called kotao used for producing rakija; distillery Aura in Motovun, Istria

The process of preparing a homemade rakija starts with collecting fruit. Fruit should ideally be picked when it is very ripe. If you are going to prepare šljivovica, pick plums once they are very sweet, ripe, and full of juices.

It is best to wait for the fruit to fall from the tree. This way, you will be sure that they are ripe. Collect only healthy fruit, and avoid picking the grass, land, leaves, and stems.

Put the fruit in barrels and wait for three or four weeks until they soften and ferment. The preparation of rakija can begin after fermentation.

We call the preparation process kuhanje rakije (cooking rakija) or pečenje rakije (baking rakija). Rakija is cooked in a big special kettle over a fire. The rakija will then drip out of a special tube. The process lasts for several hours until all rakija comes out from the fruit.

The first juices are very strong and can contain up to 60% of alcohol. They are usually thrown away.

After the rakija is baked, it is poured into clean glass bottles. The preparation tools must be clean. Otherwise, the result is dirty rakija, and nobody wants that.

Once produced, rakija can then be drunk or used to prepare other liqueurs like lemon rakija.

[Read: How to make a lemon rakija]

How much does rakija cost in Croatia?

Store Aura
Distillery Aura’s store in Grožnjan, Istria, originally from Buzet

The price of rakija in Croatia varies and depends on various factors, including:

  • Type
  • Age
  • Point of sale

Prices usually vary between 4 and 14 euros per liter. The quality of a good homemade rakija can’t even be compared to buying one, so don’t hesitate to set aside more money. It is worth it.

If you go to an average cafe, you will pay up to 2 euros for a shot of rakija of 0,3 deciliters. If you visit a bar that is a bit fancier or located in a tourist location, you might pay up to 4 euros per shot or more.

Situations when Croatians use rakija, other than drinking

Croatians don’t use rakija only as a drink. We often like to say Popij malo rakije, bit će ti bolje (Drink some rakija and you’ll feel better).

We often use rakija as a “medicine” or for other purposes in daily life. Below are some of the most common uses of rakija in Croatia.

Use of rakija as a “medicine” in Croatia

#1 Stomach pain

If your stomach feels unsettled after a heavy or greasy meal, take a sip of šljivovica, loza, or travarica. This should soothe the stomach ache. People often use it for stomach pain regardless of the cause. Don’t take too much. Otherwise, you’ll have a different kind of pain 🙂

#2 Toothache

If you have a toothache, take a sip of rakija and keep it on the aching tooth for a few seconds. Swish it a bit, and then spit it out. You should repeat this two or three times, every so often. This should soothe the toothache.

Eventually, rakija might irritate your gums if you repeat too much.

#3 Sore throat

If you have a sore throat caused by a bacterial infection, rakija might help you. Take a few drops of rakija together with propolis. This should disinfect your throat. You can also prepare herbal tea and add a few tablespoons of rakija. This should both calm your sore throat and warm you up.

#4 Back pain and stiff neck

If your back hurts, a massage with rakija should help. Take a bit of rakija komovica or tropica and massage it into your sore, stiff back. This should relax the muscles. Repeat the procedure after a few hours.

Any other type of rakija should also help. You can use this trick if you have a stiff neck as well.

#5 Rheumatism

People who suffer from rheumatism can use rakija to massage their joints. Rakija should relax the joints and relieve joint pain.

#6 Swelling

Rakija is also good for reducing swelling. You can massage your swelling with a rakija compress. This should cool your skin. Don’t keep the compress too long on the skin. Otherwise, it may get irritated.

#7 Bad circulation

People often drink rakija under the excuse it is good for the bloodstream. However, it is true that a cup of rakija will run your bloodstream and warm you up. If you are cold, take a cup, and you’ll feel better right away 🙂

#8 Urological problems

If you are suffering from an infection of the urinary tract, take a sip of rakija mixed with parsley. This should help to solve the bacterial infection.

#9 Nausea while driving (motion sickness)

Nausea while driving in a car or a bus can be quite exhausting. If you are suffering, take a sip of rakija before you sit in a vehicle. However, don’t drink and drive.

Use of rakija at Croatian homes

#1 Disinfection

Since rakija contains a high percentage of alcohol, it can be used as a disinfectant for almost everything. It is excellent for cleaning keyboards, household appliances, and dust.

#2 Cleaning glass

Rakija is excellent for cleaning glass. If you clean the windows with rakija, it won’t leave streaks. They will be cleaner than when using an industrial cleaner. Simply spray the windows with rakija and wipe them with a clean cloth.

#3 Removing stains

Rakija can be used to remove stains from ink, grass, and lipstick. To remove the stains from ink and grass, dip a clean cloth in rakija and rub the stain. Rinse the stain thoroughly.

To remove the stain from lipstick, soak the stain with rakija, then wash the clothes in the washing machine.

#4 Removing mold

It is possible to remove mold with rakija and disinfect it simultaneously. To get the best results, spray the mold with rakija and wait for 30 minutes. Rub the area with an old toothbrush or scouring pad, and rinse thoroughly.

If you want to clean the bathroom tiles, spray them with rakija and rinse after 10 minutes.

#5 Cleaning jewelry

Rakija can be used to return the shine to old items like chandeliers, glasses, crystals, and jewelry. To clean a chandelier, moisturize a microfiber cloth with rakija and rub it over dusty surfaces.

If you want to clean jewelry, pour rakija into a cup or a bowl and soak the jewelry. After 5-10 minutes, rinse and dry the jewelry.

#6 Cut flowers

Rakija can preserve the freshness of the cut flowers. After you put the flowers into the vase, add two teaspoons of rakija and one teaspoon of sugar to the water. Stir well and repeat this procedure every few days. This should keep your flowers fresh longer than they would otherwise be.

#7 Removing glue

If you want to remove glue, rakija is here to help. Soak a cloth in rakija and rub the glue until it disappears.

View our other drinking articles


Sources:
Rakija: 10 zdravstvenih problema zbog kojih se okrećemo bakinu lijeku za sve boljke by Zadovoljna.hr
Aromatične rakije travarice by doc. dr. sc. Marin Mihaljević Žulj
Istražili smo: Za što sve služi rakija by sib.hr

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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