Being an immigrant nation, Australia has seen waves of cultures arrive since its founding.
I often imagine what a dull and bland place it would have been without the wonderful food, culture and booze these people from around the world brought with them.
When I was a kid in Sydney I first encountered some of these cultures in the playground. At one school I was one of the few anglo kids and met my first Croats, Lebanese, Greeks and Macedonians. Our games of ‘armies’ at lunchtime did get a little out of hand at times as ancient rivalries sometimes got the better of us, and I ended playing a role a bit like the UN before the teachers got involved!
But we all stayed mates.
Cut forward a few years and I was working in London managing a fine dining restaurant. One my way home I’d walk past a Greek club and catch glimpses of men smoking, glasses, food, music and it seemed very serious. One day, I politely asked if I could come in.
They asked me where I was from suspiciously. ‘Australia‘ says I. Suddenly smiles and come in sir, ‘Maybe you know my cousin in Melbourne?‘ and welcomed I was.
I was sat down, given a small glass and poured a shot. Rakia.
Down the hatch.
To this day I’ve no idea how I got home, but I do remember the hospitality.
I gave it an honourable mention in my TEDx talk as one of the seminal spirits, like vodka that emerge from a deep human need and are entwined with the culture that created them.
Apparently Rakia is so highly prized that traditionally, it is served by the groom’s father to all the guests at a wedding and sharing a toast to the newly weds. It is also offered to guests in one’s home as a welcoming gesture.
I’ve written elsewhere about the vibrant craft spirits scene in South Australia, so its not surprising that brothers Jon and Con Lioulio have produced the first commercial Rakia in Australia. To quote their website, “The brothers have distilled 36 Short in honour of their father. 36 Short is a tribute to Jon and Con’s Macedonian born father, Pando who bought the recipe to Australia almost 50 years ago.”
So I was thrilled to be asked to give my opinion on their new release. But first we had a bit of chat.
How do you see your product in the spectrum of Australian craft spirits?
We are unable to compare ourselves or our product with any other locally produced Rakia as there are no other known Rakia distillers in Australia. Our product is one of a kind and leading the way in the market.
Did it take you a while to crack the distilling/ blending process?
It is based on our fathers family recipe, which to us, was already outstanding. We just refined it with a more modern twist to suit the modern day palate
For a gin drinker, I find your Rakia remarkable complex and smooth- how was that possible!?
The wine itself is an exceptional quality, South Australian Mc Laren Vale Shiraz. We distill in a small copper pot still and the heads and tails are removed of the distillate at precisely the right time. This is something we have refined over time, making it a true art. We then filter the batch and age in the barrel for 2-4 months before bottling.
What advice would you have to someone thinking of making their own craft spirit in Australia?
Do your research and be persistent. It’s not a quick and easy process to get your licensing. Also, practise makes perfect, refine your recipe.
How do you recommend people enjoy your Rakias?
We enjoy it straight up, before a meal with a pickled salad, or after a meal with coffee. We also find it a delicious accompaniment to our favourite cocktails.
Was there an eureka moment when you knew you’d nailed it in development?
After doing a couple of runs, staying up all night mixing and blending, on the 3rd night without sleep we finally got it close to dads recipe/style.
What inspired you to make it?
It was always dad’s dream to get it up and running. He started looking into the licensing process before he passed away, and we decided to keep it going and see how far his dream could go.
Is there a recipe you can share for using your lovely spirit?
- 30ml Vodka
- 15ml 36S White Rakia
- 15ml Coffee Liquor
- 30ml Fresh Espresso
- 10ml Simple Sugar Syrup
Method: Shake over ice. Double strain and garnish with grated nutmeg
- 45ml 36S Gold Rakia
- 30ml Fresh Lemon Juice
- 15ml Simple Sugar Syrup
- Egg White
Method: Dry shake egg and sugar, add remaining ingredients and shake over ice. Strain and serve over fresh ice. Garnish with Maraschino Cherry
White Rakia, Bottle #45, Batch 002
Nose: Intensely spicy, but clean, with hints of lemon notes behind the dominant aniseed aroma (but not as pronounced as say, Sambucca). No alcoholic hit on the nose.
Taste: The flavours are all forward and harmonious, with a very dry and austere finish on the palette. Again, the alcohol is handled well, there’s a backbone to the spirit, but its refined and not dominant. Its slightly richer on the palette than say, gin, and it presents a mild aniseed flavour.
Rating 3.5 stars
Gold Rakia, Bottle #45, Batch 002 (Barrel Aged)
Nose: Creamy spice, with some sweet caramel notes and subtle spirit aromatics.
Taste: Well rounded on the palette with the aniseed flavours balanced by a hint of honey leaving you with a very long lingering + dry finish. You could sip this lady all day long.
Rating: 4 stars
The Take Home
For a first foray into craft spirits, Jon and Con have produced and presented their spirits with aplomb. Smart packaging and online presence accurately reflects a contemporary take on an ancient spirit that still honours tradition. For me, these are both a quality releases, with the Gold Rakia offering a sophisticated drinking experience.
- Website: www.36short.com.au
- Facebook page
- Instagram account
- Purchase directly from the website: $70 for a 700ml bottle
- Disclaimer: this review is of an unsolicited bottles provided by the makers, views are my own.