Practically every country has their own unique version of moonshine, a high proof alcohol distilled from some local ingredients. Meet Turkey’s version of moonshine: Raki.
Raki, also known as Lion’s Milk, is the Turkish national drink made of twice-distilled grapes and aniseed. Originally developed as an alternative to absinthe, raki is also popular in Greece, Bosnia and other Balkan countries. Similar in taste to Ouzo, raki has strong notes of anise and liquorice.
Originally produced from the solid residue of the grape (aka the skin, pulp, seed and stem), today it can made from a variety of fruits, like figs, and is typically served with mezze. The drink is incredibly strong (between 45-90% abv) but is complementary to fish, feta and cold hors d’oeuvres. While the alcohol itself is clear, when mixed with water it becomes milky white, aka the moniker Lion’s milk.
Raki is serious business in Turkey. It’s the go-to spirit for celebrating a promotion or a birthday or for muting the pain of a job loss or the end of a relationship. You’ll typically see either large groups celebrating with glasses of raki, or close intimate groups of people heavy in raki fuelled discussion. If you are part of either of these groups, it can be viewed as rude to not share a glass of raki. Just remember that raki is powerfully strong, so sipping is best advised.