Rakia is, without a doubt, the most popular Bulgarian alcoholic tipple and is an essential accompaniment to any traditional meal. In September 2023, a museum deservedly dedicated to this drink was opened in Sofia and came instantly on the list of the Balkan Bites free food tour! It was a pleasure to visit this place.
Here, visitors can learn about the history of this Bulgarian spirit, see an ancient clay pot still, and, of course, taste various alcoholic elixirs. If you are tired, try a coffee with a bit of Rakia. And be sure to read about this Bulgarian tradition, as this is, after all, a museum. As soon as you enter the museum, you will be greeted with a dose of humor by several large dolls dressed in traditional village clothes and decorated with some of the symbols of our past. People can see a recreated clay pot - the first type of pot used for distilling rakia in Bulgarian lands. The well-known copper pot and a model of a distillation column for commercial production are still on display.
We are warmly greeted by the owner of the place, Ivaylo Zheglov. He tells us rakia was initially used for medicinal purposes, as various tinctures were prepared, and the alcohol was also used for cleaning wounds. After the 1930s, people in the villages began to produce rakia en masse as it was the cheapest way to have a strong drink for all important life events, such as weddings, baptisms, and funerals.
Ivaylo knows these things very well because he collects the best alcohol worldwide and puts exquisite items in the museum. The place has an extensive collection of brandies worldwide and a shop where you can buy bottles and souvenirs. Additionally, Each visitor receives an audio guide that provides information about the distillation technology, the history of rakia, various jokes about Bulgarian culture related to the drink, and the proper way to drink it.
There is a surprise about the method. Many readers from the Balkan area would think Bulgarians drink rakia as any other regional nation. They are wrong. Bulgarians drink rakia as an aperitif - with salad, meat or dairy appetizers, and pickles. They move on to dinner only after that, mainly without any rakia. The idea of having rakia with morning coffee or for breakfast, to enjoy it after the meal, or just having rakia as a quick shot is quite alien to Bulgarian gastronomy culture! There were more than a few raised eyebrows when I suggested drinking rakia without any food along it.
In the museum, the Rakia degustation is accompanied by a plate of appetisers, cheese, olives, and delicious salami. For visitors who do not drink alcohol (yes, there are even those who visit the museum anyway), the smell of different brandies through unique diffusers may provide them with the aromas of this cherished drink.
Bulgaria is rich in rakia varieties. The most famous one is grape rakia, a very classic product of the Bulgarian countryside. Plum and pear rakia follow closely, and, probably, you have at least heard if not tasted the Troyanska, famed plum rakia from the picturesque town of Troyan. Supposedly, the Troyan Monastery monks were the first to start boiling brandy as early as the 16th century, while the recipe was kept secret and passed from one abbot to another. However, we know that the monastery drink contained about 40 herbs.
The Museum of Rakia features a beautiful garden where we tried some grape rakia and compared percentages of alcohol in it. "Foreigners find it a bit strong. They like the fruit varieties more. Visitors really like pear and quince rakia. Some do not even know what quince is, but they are impressed by the aromatic drink. And when we get to the dogwood berries, they are really surprised." Ivaylo Zheglov says with a smile. Joy is in the small cup. After all, this museum intends to be the ambassador of Bulgarian rakia in the world.
Museum of Rakia
Patriarh Evtimiy 22, Sofia
Phone: +359 888 3730 96 | Email: email@example.com