What is Rakı?

The story of the Rakı

Many legends are told about the history of rakı. These legends go in three to four directions in Ottoman rakı history. The first direction is the Greek one, which tells about the ouzo. The second is the Armenian “Cermag Cur”, i.e. the white water. The third is the story of rakı from Turkey and lastly the legend coming from the Syrian region from the Arabic word “arak”. If all these stories are evaluated according to the Islamic prohibition of alcohol, Greek and Armenian legends about rakı in the Turkish rakı tradition will have historical reality.

Because Yakamoz Rakı is produced in Turkey, we tell you a story of rakı without national identity and historical facts.

We know that a drink similar to raki existed as long ago as the 5th century on the Anatolian peninsular, what was then the Eastern Roman Empire. This drink was discovered by Islamic Turkish peoples in the 12th century and it became very popular with the dervishes and the Bektashi Order. We know from Ottoman historical sources that as long ago as the 15th century, raki was being produced in great quantities in the port city of Trabzon, which was the centre of a thriving trade. When you turn your attention to how raki is made, with dried white grapes being fermented and mixed with anise seeds before being distilled, you can see that the grapes and the aniseed on the Anatolian peninsular originate from Greece or Armenia. Although the Ottoman sultans and their entourages drank raki to excess in their palaces, drinking alcohol was strictly forbidden for the Muslim population. Drinking raki was therefore limited to groups on the fringes of Islamic society under the Ottomans, such as the Alawites and the Bektashi Order. The dervishes also loved raki, using it for their hedonistic pursuit of enlightenment. While under the influence of alcohol, the dervishes wrote poetry and sang songs, many of which remain much-loved parts of Turkish culture today. So raki became, after wine, the most popular alcoholic drink in Christian and later Islamic Anatolia. To understand the history of raki, we must first look at the history of winemaking.

The Old Testament tells the story of Noah sending a dove out from his ark on the great flood. The bird later returned with a twig from a vine.Frtom This tells us that the history of wine must have begun in Noah’s time somewhere around Mount Ararat. Mount Ararat is sacred to the Armenians, who believe themselves to be descendants of Noah himself. After the conversion of the Armenians to Christianity, wine became a symbol of Christ’s blood at the Last Supper. Grape cultivation became the speciality of monasteries in Anatolia. Wine was a symbol of Christ’s blood, which made it a very special drink for the Christians. Wine from the Byzantine empire was exported to many places in Europe. In addition to grapes, various types of wine and schnapps were also produced in the Ottoman Empire from plums, apricots, figs and, among the Arabs, from dates. While it is clear that historically alcohol was an important trading commodity, the nomads had little or no influence on the cultural history of raki or wine. That means that raki and wine were only known to nomads as drinks and that alcohol dependency led to an increase in consumption. The facts around alcohol dependency are comparable to the experiences of Native Americans. Native Americans gave the name Fire Water to whisky, and a similar process took place in Anatolia when the dervishes renamed it Lion’s Milk. In modern Turkey raki is still widely known as “cermag cur” or “white water”, due to the white colour it takes on when diluted with water – hence the name “lion’s milk”.

After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century, raki was the second most popular alcoholic drink in the bars and restaurants. Only wine, which contained less alcohol, was more widely consumed. The name itself first appears in accounts written by 17th century Ottoman travellers and the historian Evliya Çelebi, who described distillers as ‘arakcyian traders’ ‘Araki’ comes from Arabic and means ‘the drink that makes the drinker sweat.’ This was the name used by the Armenians who were dominant in the Ottoman empire at the time to describe the people who made the raki. In his accounts of his travels, Evliya Çelebi described how the Armenians made raki from bananas, pomegranates, apricots, plums and even mustard. After the expulsion of the Armenians, their cuisine was taken over by the Turks and the Kurds, who consider it part of their own cultural heritage.

The other explanation for where the name comes from is the razaki grapes used to make the aniseed brandy and over time, ‘razaki’ became ‘raki’ in common speech.
During the first period of liberalisation in the Ottoman empire between 1826 and 1830 raki began to be produced in many different places. That being said, a considerable amount of raki was produced for personal consumption in small towns and villages.

Under the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, Islamic law was reimposed on the empire after the reigns of his father Abdulmejid I and his brother Murad V. During that period, raki could only be produced by the Sultan’s finance minister, a Muslim named Saricazade Ragıp Pasha. It was also at this time that the first parliament was dissolved and the country was governed under pan-Islamic and pan-Turkist ideologies. The Greeks in the European parts of the empire declared their independence in 1830 and in 1878 the Bulgarians and other Baltic countries also broke away from Ottoman rule. During this period consumption of raki in the Ottoman empire continued to grow. Raki produced using the Greek method has become part of Greek culture under the name of Ouzo. Between 1920 and 1926 the trade in alcoholic drinks was strictly forbidden in Turkey. It was not until a law came into force in June 1926 that raki could once again be manufactured by the Turkish government monopoly. The first new factory was set up in Gaziantep in 1930, with additional facilities following in Diyarbakir, Tekirdag, and Nevsehir in 1931. During this period, popular consumption of alcohol followed the example set by Turkey’s leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Today, raki production in Turkey is permitted under the state monopoly so many companies are creating raki using their own recipes and under their own names.

How is Yakamoz Rakı made?

If we are to achieve the quality we are aiming for, we have to rethink two key elements: our ingredients and our production methods.
First of all we had to find the very best ingredients. We chose aniseed from Burdur as it is the best aniseed in Turkey. We also agreed to use dried grapes to distil Yakamoz Rakı, not the usual fresh grapes. Seedless dried sultanas release fewer tannins and the spirit is much lower in sugar. Ordinary raki contains 14-16 grams of sugar per litre, while Yakamoz Rakı contains only 8!

It took us two and a half years of research to develop our method, which yields 1 litre of pure spirit from 26 kg of sultanas. This ‘suma’ is then triple distilled in copper barrels. After that, it is allowed to rest for three months with ten minutes of oxygenation every day.
Yakamoz Rakı is the fruit of these years of research. It far surpasses all the ordinary brands on the market.