Rakı (Turkish rakı IPA [rak?]) is an anise-flavored apéritif that is highly popular in Turkey and is often associated with the country. It is produced by twice distilling either only suma or suma that has been mixed with ethyl alcohol in traditional copper alembics of 5000 lt volume or less with aniseed.[1] It is similar to several kinds of alcoholic beverages available in the Mediterranean and parts of the Balkans, including pastis, sambuca, ouzo, tsikoudia, tsipouro, and mastika. The general consesus is that all these liqueurs are proceeders of arak, a similar arabic liqueur, but it remains a theory. [2]

Rakı-water, the national drinking tradition, is called Aslan Sütü, meaning Lion’s Milk in Turkish, milk because of its color, and, lion as it stands for courageous, strong, a true man’s beverage. Until 19th century, meyhanes, mostly run by non-muslim Ottomans, would mainly serve wine along with meze. Although there were many Muslims among meyhane attendants, sharia authorities could, at times, persecute them. With the relatively liberal atmosphere of Tanzimat Turkey, meyhane attendance among Muslims rose considerably. However, believers would still approach wine with a certain suspicion. Raki, which at those times resembled arak, became a favourite among meyhane-goers. By the end of the century, raki took its current standard form and its consumption surpassed that of wine.

During the days of the Ottoman Empire raki was produced by distillation of grape pomace (cibre) obtained during wine fermentation. When the amount of pomace was not sufficient, alcohol imported from Europe would be added. If anise was not added, it would take the name düz rakı (“straight raki”) or douziko (in Greek). Raki prepared with the addition of gum mastic was named sakız rakısı or mastika, especially produced on the island of Tenedos.

Mustafa Kemal (later to have his surname Atatürk), the founder of the Turkish Republic, had a great appreciation for the liquor and consumed vast quantities of it. During the first years of the Republic, the grape alcohol (named suma) began to be directly distilled from grapes by the state-owned sprits monopoly, Tekel. With the increasing sugar beet production, Tekel also began to distill the alcohol from molasses. A new brand of raki with an amount of sugar beet alcohol was called Yeni Rakı (“New Raki”). Molasses gave raki the famous bitter taste and helped it to become a table drink.

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