Raki(updated August 4, 2007)
The national drink of Crete is raki (or Tsipouro / tsikoudia). This is a strong clear liquor which contains about 40% alcohol. It's distilled from the dregs left after the wine is pressed from grapes. These dregs are called the wine-must.
The first Greek raki was distilled in the fourteenth century by monks in the province of Macedonia in northern Greece. From there, the drink distillation method spread throughout Greece. Especially in poor regions people started to produce the drink.
Raki is the Turkish name for a similar drink; although it tastes different the same name is also used on Crete. The Turkish raki is made from prunes and figs instead of wine. It's believed that the name raki derives from the word Iraq (Iraqi).
Everywhere over Crete people are making raki and many small villages have a, whether or not legal, distillery (or Rakizio). Farmers from vineyards save their wine-must in large tanks at their farm. The must remains here for about a month, in the middle of the sun, so the lot could have a little yeast. After this, the winegrowers bring the wine to the distillery in their village, to brew the raki. After this the vintage is celebrated with great family parties and a lot of wine and raki, of course.
The distillation of the wine-must takes approximately 3 hours. The liquid is boiled twice to make sure all hazardous substances, such as methanol, are removed from the drink. At the beginning of the distillation a high alcoholic beverage comes out of the distilling boiler. Later, the percentage lowers. At the end, all the beverage is mixed together to reach an alcohol percentage of 40. However, a (much) higher percentage is of course also possible.
Raki has a very strong flavor and for inexperienced drinkers it is perhaps difficult to keep one shot glass of the stuff inside. The taste of raki is somewhat similar to the Greek ouzo without anise. The taste seems a bit like gin / vodka. It is said that if you drink good and pure raki you won't have a hangover the next day. It is impolite to refuse a glass of raki when someone offers it to you. When you really don't want to drink any more raki, it is wise to not totally empty your glass. The host will otherwise continue to fill it over and over.
The raki which is offered at tourist resorts is often of low quality and not tasty. In some villages you can visit a distillery. The raki, which is offered there is generally of much better quality. When you drive on the island you may come against a small distillery. A visit can be funny, if you do not come with an empty stomach.