“You mean you have never had rakomelo?” I could tell by the face and the obviously indignant tone that I had mortally offended a universal cultural understanding by my lack of knowledge of this apparent Greek national wintertime drink. With overriding curiosity, knowing that I was digging myself a larger hole of cultural ignorance, I managed to slip out a “What is rakomelo anyway?” Before I could spell rakomelo, a steaming metal pitcher of amber liquid was placed before me. In hindsight I realize my next action was rather naive, but as if to complete the act of stupidity to all before me, I decided to smell the contents of the pitcher. What resulted was a 5 minute coughing spree, alerting all in the establishment that I was a culture-tard… I now knew that what was before me was heated alcohol. When I managed to actually get the contents to my lips, I was in awe of how the interaction of three simple things could create something almost magical. At once I knew the reason for the iconic status of this cold weather drink. If you are not at all familiar with this intoxicating (literally and figuratively) amber nectar , you are probably wondering just as I did, “What is rakomelo anyway?”
Rakomelo is made from three basic and common ingredients found here in Greece:
- Raki or tsiporo (which are the same thing with a different name, although some purists may argue with me) is an alcohol made by distilling the pomace (skins and stalks) of the grape harvest wine after the pressing . It is a clear spirit containing 40-45% alcohol similar in nature to Italian Grappa.
- Thyme honey. Yes you could make this with normal honey, but thyme honey offers a certain delicate aroma and flavour that you just don’t get with the stuff you smear on your toast.
- Cinnamon plays the background in this drink. Only use a stick and always add it at the end.
I have had rakomelo many times in the last three years since that first experience. But what makes this drink truly intoxicating is not the alcohol contained therein, but the experience shared by friends. It is the conversations that happen which are often philosophical, theological or existential in nature that make this drink special. It is something shared by close friends, or ones you want to get to know better.
What you need:
- 250ml tsiporo
- 1Tbsp thyme honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Heat proof serving pitcher
- Shot glasses
How it’s done:
- Place your thyme honey and cinnamon stick in a heat proof serving pitcher.
- In a briki or small saucepan heat your tsiporo until it reaches a boil.
- A NOTE OF CAUTION: In preparing for this post I have been experimenting with a technique that involves igniting the fumes of the heated tsiporo to give a more robust carmel flavour. I am now sitting in front of my computer with less eyebrows and hair than I had an hour ago. So remember. HEATED ALCOHOL IS VERY FLAMMABLE.
- Just as the tsiporo reaches a boil, pour into your pitcher.
- Give the mixture a stir with the cinnamon stick and serve immediately.