No traveller to Crete can claim to have fully experienced the country without sampling a convivial shot of the national drink, tsipouro or tsikoudia, otherwise known as raki. Dubbed Cretan fire-water because of its swift, sometimes even dramatic effects, this potent liquor is distilled from wine-must, or the dregs of grapes which remain after the wine is made.
Greek raki originated in a monastery in Macedonia in the fourteenth century. Gradually, the secrets of production and the delightful effects of the drink spread throughout Greece and across the Aegean Sea into Crete.
Many small villages in Crete still have their Rakizio, or distilleries, and the process of producing raki remains pretty the same as it was when the Macedonian monks passed it on. First of all, after the grapes are harvested and processed, the must is collected in large tank and left in the full sun for four weeks. At the end of the month it is brought in to the Rakizio to be distilled. Distillation takes about three hours and the end product is a strong-flavoured clear liquid with an alcohol content of 40% or more.
Back home on the farm, the vintage is celebrated with a family feast. Needless to say, a great deal of new raki goes down in the celebration.
The very best of Cretan raki comes out of the village distilleries and it is said that good pure raki is hangover-free. However, novice drinkers are warned to take it slowly as the risk of throwing up or falling down is high. Furthermore, as it is impolite to refuse the offer of a re-fill, it is wise not to empty your glass too often!