A science experiment: The effects of rakia on a 75 pound man

I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog post for weeks. At this point, most of you are probably familiar with my friend Krassy. Ever since our first couple of cooking sessions, Krassy has insisted I join him for an afternoon of preparing homemade rakia. For those of you who don’t know, rakia is a fruit brandy typically made with grapes or plums that is popular in the Balkans. Knowing how hilarious just a normal afternoon watching soccer with Krassy can be, I agreed without thinking twice.

One Saturday morning, I met up with Hannah, a German teacher at my school who is living in Silistra for about 6 months, to watch our school’s volleyball game. After the game, Hannah and I headed over to meet Krassy for an afternoon of rakia making.

After driving a couple of minutes West along the Danube, Krassy asked if I had my camera. Having come straight from the volleyball game, I had left it back in my apartment. I told him it was no problem, but he insisted I take photos to send to “Marilyn and John.” We whipped a quick 180, and after ten minutes, we were back at Krassy’s rakia stove, camera in hand (I would be incredibly thankful for this later).

At this point, I must introduce one other character who ultimately becomes our hero for the day. I had met Krassy’s friend Atanas one other time. The first things you notice about Atanas are his sideways ball cap and toothless grin. He’s probably about 5’6″, and maybe 80 pounds soaking wet. My first impression was that he was upbeat, jovial, and absolutely hilarious. These initial observations have endured each time I’ve hung out with him since. While I probably understand ~80% of what Krassy says at this point, I understand closer to 20% of what Atanas says.

My friend Atanas

My friend Atanas

Now it was time to get to work. Krassy and Atanas began cleaning out the enormous vat. The facility we were working in was communal, so it had to be cleaned out before each use. The building had four giant vats stacked side by side, and people pay a set fee to make a single batch of rakia. Several groups came and went as we were there throughout the course of the day.

Krassy cleaning out the rakia vat

Krassy cleaning out the rakia vat

Once the vat was cleaned to Krassy’s satisfaction (Atanas would have stopped 20 minutes earlier), we began dumping in the grape juice. It’s unclear to me where the juice came from (it was there when we arrived), but I like to think they are grapes from Krassy’s ranch, and that Atanas stomped them himself. We use buckets to empty three giant blue plastic barrels of grape juice into the vat, which was situated directly above a wood stove. Once the ingredients were loaded, the top was sealed with some sort of flour solution, and we added more firewood to get things cooking!

Blue juice barrels

Blue juice barrels

Pouring in the juice!

Pouring in the juice!

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Things are heating up!

Hannah pointed out that the vat next to ours was made in 1947. It’s amazing to think that people have probably been making rakia here for over 60 years.

Old stove

Old stove

With things underway, we decided to start cooking some food for ourselves. Krassy explained to us all that he had wanted to cook steaks, but because Atanas didn’t have enough teeth, we had to have meatballs instead. I couldn’t believe how matter-of-fact Krassy was about the whole thing, but fortunately Atanas seemed to be a pretty good sport. I laid out the tablecloth while Atanas cooked our meatballs and potatoes in the wheelbarrow outside (yes, you read that correctly).

Brought out the nice linens

Brought out the nice linens

Portable grill

Portable grill

Atanas manning the grill

Grillmaster Atanas

Sometime during lunch, the rakia started flowing! The steam works its way up through a pipe before passing through a cooling condenser, and finally emerging as rakia. Krassy consistently checked in on the alcohol content which was right around 60%–pretty potent! We were making a big batch, so the process took several hours.

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Steam moves through the pipe and into the cooling condenser on the right. It then emerges as rakia!

Rakia

Rakia

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Checking the alcohol percentage

Collecting rakia

Collecting rakia

Now that the rakia was flowing, it was time to taste it. I love science experiments. In elementary school, I used to geek out over our annual science fair. I remember winning honorable mention one year for testing which detergents were most effective at cleaning up after oil spills…pretty ground-breaking stuff for a 4th grader, right? I thought so too, until my youngest sister Emily won first place a few years later for planting her lost baby teeth to see if they would grow into flowers (spoiler alert: they don’t). Sometimes the world doesn’t seem fair (pun intended).

This particular Saturday, I witnessed an experiment searching to answer the question: How does rakia affect a 75 pound man? Atanas loves rakia. In the time it took me to polish off each small glass, I felt like Atanas had finished three. These pictures only begin to depict his absurdity. I wish I had brought a video camera…

Krassy scowling at Atanas

Krassy scowling at Atanas

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Hannah and Atanas

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Atanas’ bejeweled jeans

Victory!

Victory!

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18 thoughts on “A science experiment: The effects of rakia on a 75 pound man

  1. I was waiting for the tribe to breakout into 99 shots of rakia on the wall, 99 shots of rakia wall now 98 shots of rakia on the wall , etc, etc, etc

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  2. I think we have some folks here in the mountains of North Carolina who like to spend the afternoon doing the same thing you guys did, only here we call it moonshine! Actually, you were picking up on a bit of a family tradition. Rumor has it that your great grandmother Bobcie made a batch occasionally to get her family through the Depression.

    Dad

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  3. I am certainly glad that Krassy went back for your camera so you could show your mom and dad (and it makes for a great blog post)! It’s even more fun to see now that we have met all of you involved in the procedure. I must say, I prefer the more formal dinner we had in Krassy and Nadia’s lovely home with actual linens, wine glasses and a clean stove over the food from the wheelbarrow grill. In fairness to Emily, she was in kindergarten at the time and her hypothesis was that the teeth wouldn’t grow. (she meant grow bigger, not grow into flowers)! Also, as her proud mother, I am pleased to say she was the only kindergartner to do an experiment for the Science Fair!

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  4. Pingback: Shooting with Krassy | I'm Balkan on Sunshine

  5. Pingback: Bulgaria: A Year in Summary | I'm Balkan on Sunshine

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