The Spirit of the Balkans Arrives Stateside - Food & Beverage Magazine

The Spirit of the Balkans Arrives Stateside

Never heard of “rakija” or “rakia”  — the famous fruit brandy of the Balkans? You’re not alone. Welcome to your first taste of the truest, exportable flavor of Balkan culture. It’s been made for the last eight centuries in homes and on farms, and the recipes vary wildly. However, with the launch of Yebiga Rakija, we know it will have a whole new legion of fans in America and become a leader in the category.

 

This beautiful, bracing fruit brandy might be on every table in Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Bosnia, but, until now, the finest family recipe version has never come stateside. Unless it was packed in a suitcase.

 

In Bosnia, people often say, “Drink some Rakija, and you are going to feel better.” 

In Bulgaria, it’s: “a psychotherapist can help you, but Rakija is cheaper.”

 

Yebiga’s first expression coming stateside is PRVA, a style that favors the Serbian methods of starting with fresh, ripe plums, domestic to the region, grown in the country’s fertile soil, hand-plucked and barrel aged for 18 months.

 

Yebiga––should you Google it­­––is a feisty term.

Roughly translated, it’s Serbian for:

“Eh. Screw it.”

 

What else could we name a true, traditional Serbian-styled Rakija? In a name, like in a bottle, we needed something fiery and bold. Something unapologetic, but beautifully polite and sophisticated. And totally different. A spirit to straighten your spine, lift your chin and let the world’s worries float off where they belong. Yebiga Rakija is a welcome. It’s also a send-off. It’s the darkness in-between, when loveably bad decisions become great ideas.

 

While people from the Balkan region might be celebrating its arrival, Yebiga might be the first Rakija experience for many American palates.  So, let us begin where we should.

 

An introduction to Rakija

Don’t feel ashamed if you’re uninitiated. Rakija––also called Rakia or Raki––is a spirit category born in the Balkans at least 800 years ago. At its most basic core, it is a fruit brandy. Americans will likely equate it to Moonshine, and with good reason. It’s made in the woods, without a lot of rules. Fresh fruit and passed down knowledge are essential to craft a great Rakija, but you could harvest apples, or reach for peaches, figs, grapes or juniper. Plums are the most iconic fruit choice for Serbia, grown easily in the country’s climate.

 

Rakija is traditionally crafted close to the heart and close to the home (usually right out back) in the Serbian countryside, the hilly coasts of Croatia, in Bulgarian forests and by the still lakes of Montenegro. This Balkan spirit is centuries old, and it isn’t about fancy equipment, but more so a grandmother’s passed down prowess with a simple still, an orchard and some patience.

 

Welcome to Yebiga Rakija

Authentic & handcrafted Rakija has been nearly impossible to find in the United States, until now. Yes, fruit brandies from the Balkans and some Rakijas have been sold here, but never before like this. and, truth be told, a rakija of this quality is rarely available in shops– even in the Balkans.

 

Yebiga takes the best of Balkans––a family recipe, a refusal for additives, hyper-local plums grown in that particular micro climate. The spirit has a light-gold, polished appearance from time in oak sourced from the Serbian mountains, and there’s a hint of spice on the nose, tones of vanilla and citrus on the backend … and that famous, bracing Serbian soul throughout.

 

Bill Gould, the Bassist for the American Rock band Faith No More, and the Founder of Yebiga Rakija, first fell in love with Rakija backstage in Budapest after a show in 1992, and never forgot the taste or the feeling it gave him. He returned to the area many times, experiencing the spirit in various homes, bars and adventures.  And then he took the plunge.

“The fact is, the only way I could ever get a good Rakija before was to travel in the Balkans and load up the suitcase or wait for someone to bring a bottle from there,” says Bill Gould. “The best Rakijas are rarely purchased in shops in the Balkans, but are sipped around the table in someone’s home, kept for welcoming direct family and friends. It was my goal to have Yebiga be a Rakija that stands up in quality to rival the finest family recipes, so that we could enjoy the good stuff, without needing to wait for some life-changing event. I’m sure there are people in the US who miss this taste of home even more than me,” he says. “Lastly, there just needs to be more awareness among Americans about this criminally underrated spirit, and the deep cultural essence that is part of it.”

Gould focused on the two key aspects of crafting and exporting America’s first real premium Rakija.  The first was a complete faithfulness to tradition that spans centuries with the technology and understanding of today. It’s looking at climates and weather, soil, and hyper-local fruit to get the most beautiful results across the category. The second was to refuse any time-saving steps via additives. The best rakijas are all natural, and Yebiga adheres adamantly to that philosophy.

 

What Gould and his team have created is Yebiga­­ —an 86-proof spirit, clear like the morning sun on a windowpane, lightly spicy, certainly fruity, floral, clean and a bracing bit of wonder in a bottle.

 

Yebiga is best drunk as the Balkans would––splashed in a small glass, hoisted high and given to your guest with a toast wishing them well and making them laugh. It has a long, cozy finish that make it an excellent sipper. It’s also exciting in cocktails, if you’re willing to meet the challenge. This a spirit built for telling stories; for welcoming lovers and loved ones; for saying what you feel and for getting sauced.

 

Yebiga Rakija would absolutely make your grandmother curse … in the best possible way!

Don’t wait for a life altering event to experience something special: with Yebiga, you can now celebrate a birth, wedding, or even a funeral, any day of the week.”


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