The production of a very strong spirit from fermented grape skins is a centuries old tradition in the Mediterranean. In Greece, this is called raki. On the mainland it is known as tsipouro, which may be made with additions such as orange peel, carobs and other plants. In Crete, the complimentary, potent liquid offered by your taverna owner is tsikoudia. The skins and seed of the grapes only, after harvesting and treading or compression by mechanical means, are steeped to ferment for about 40 days in plastic barrels.
The fermented must is heated with water in a cauldron consisting of a pot, a lid and a pipe. A fire is lit beneath the pot and the must is brought to a simmer. Tending the fire is an art, because the must will be spoilt if burned. The evaporating liquid rises into the pipe, where it is cooled by cold water and the condensed liquid is transferred to a collection vessel where it emerges and is filtered, drop by drop into the “protoraki” or first raki. The specific gravity is measured with a hydrometer as it is collected from the collection vessel. At 17degrees, or 40% , or 18 degrees/43% alcohol, the raki reaches its usual strength. The expert taster will increase or decrease the heat from the fire to produce his desired taste, then stop the distillation process. Protoraki isnot for the faint-hearted, and might be best kept for medicinal use by the inexprienced drinker. In Crete, it is considered a remedy for all ills, from arthritis to mosquito bites. Topical application recommended here, but each to his own.