Witnessing the delicious taste of Macedonian cuisine, one is right to assume that it is accompanied by even broader range of drinks. Drinks that can pass as appetizers, enrich a meal or, as Macedonians sometimes prefer, drink on an empty stomach.
And while the alcoholic beverages tend to occupy the spotlight, the choices are hardly limited to booze alone. The cultural mix throughout the centuries made sure to supply diversity as well, making Macedonian drinks reflect the best from many cultures.
Macedonians love to drink. And that can easily be an understatement. Coffee during the morning, varieties of tea, alcohol before the lunch, and wines for dinner. If one fells short to cross one line from this checklist, he most likely did cross another. The drinks, alcoholic or not, made their way in cultural etiquette, customs, social norm and many cultural references.
Another thing that Macedonians love is making their drinks rather strong. Be that coffee or alcohol, you will be left with a peculiar and specific taste sensation. It’s a cultural thing, I suppose, devoting much attention to the entire experience. So before this long introduction makes you thirsty, let’s see what we got behind the counter, shall we?
Because why not start there, right? Turkish coffee, and this is true for most Macedonians, is a ritual taking place throughout the day. While some enjoy their cup first thing in the morning, others prefer to take it right before a meal. Yet there are those who include a cup in their code of hospitality, asking you how you take our coffee right away, without assuming that you don’t want one.
A perfect excuse to meet for any occasion or event, it is a cultural thing. So much so that it is not a surprise to hear a commentary about the taste, or be asked about it. The custom goes to throw in some good words, though at this point you won’t necessarily have to do it from curtesy only- the coffee here is one of the best you had in your life.
You can drink beer, vodka whiskey or whatnot, but when you ask the common household about alcohol the assumption goes that you want rakija. And this goes for a reason – rakija is, as many foreigners will concur, the best alcohol you will have in years. No wonder why tourists get obsessed with finding ways around customs, so they can take more than one bottle home.
A fruit brandy popular in the Balkans, it is considered the equivalent of a national drink. Made by distillation of fermented fruits it is a very strong alcoholic beverage that contains typically 50 to 60% alcohol.
Some consider it a ritual drink- associated with important events- though when I think about it from an outside perspective it might be an excuse to have one without someone asking questions- Rakija in the middle of the day?- sure, why not.
And while the party can start with anything really, if it goes to rakija, it usually ends with it. Both because of its taste, and well… potency.
There are many households in most rural areas making their own homemade variety, and you can buy great quality for surprisingly cheap prices.
While we are on the subject of booze – though Macedonians will argue that beer falls more under the food classification rather than alcohol – Skopsko is the best beer you will have while here. Macedonian beers all share a very strong flavor, and are rather high in alcohol, with Skopsko having the most marked one, and being 11 percent strong.
Most people, when you ask them for a beer, instantly assume that you would have Skopsko.
“Zlaten Dab” is another one that you ought to try, for even the second best in Macedonia is better than many beers you’ve tried around the world.
The tradition of wine making in Macedonia is centuries old. Scenic, quaintly archaic, and vibrant private wineries, produce a surprisingly large amount of wine for such a small country. Dating back even before Roman times, the Macedonian wine culture was refined throughout the centuries.
Roman emperors favored Macedonian grape varieties; the Yugoslavian Kingdom had its royal winery stationed in Macedonia; and German officers during the Second World War often times took D-tours in order to take a stash. Paying lip service about Macedonian wine alone helped spread the word far and wide.
Red varieties include Vranec and Kratoshija, wines that are in high demand in neighboring countries but other competitive markets as well.
White varieties are also very unique with marked taste that leans more towards the dry side. Most notable of which are Zilavka and Temjanika.
Visiting the wineries, be that privately or by taking an organized tour, is a perfect excuse to have a glass too many. Scenic landscape, stretching far and wide, they decorate the Macedonian countryside. There is much to enjoy even for the more seasoned wine aficionados.
Another product showcasing Ottoman influence, Boza is an old drink with very marked, slightly acidic sweet flavor. Made from fermented corn and wheat, it has a very low percentage of alcohol (around one percent)- A taste that goes well when combined with cakes and anything out of the candy shop.
A huge variety of teas
While imported tea can be found everywhere, domestic herbal teas are something that makes Macedonia easily distinguishable. Steep hills, abundance of sunshine along with Mediterranean and continental breezes, give birth to so many herbs it would take ten articles the length of this one for me to list them.
Gathered by locals living within mountainous regions and later dried, some for the periods of many months, Macedonian tea varieties are among the best you will ever taste. It is fun seeing how tea, that was once tied to domestic households alone, is now slowly becoming a drink you would order in a restaurant.
If you would take my advice for it, tea gathering during spring and summer may well be the biggest excuse for hiking through more remote Macedonian hills and mountainous regions. A mountain bike, a backpack, good company… you will have a once in a lifetime experience, and lots of tea to be grateful for later on.
Macedonian beverages offer a lot of choice that comes with marked taste no matter what you decide to have. You won’t be left thirsty regardless what your personal preference are. Strong alcohol- we have as much as you can handle; wine aficionado- a weekend alone is not enough to taste the wide palette of Macedonian wines; want to drink your beer- believe me when I say that Skopsko makes you ask for more; a coffee addict- you will discover a new high…
Here is to a glass, cup, or a bottle… Cheers!
An outdoor junkie and an adventurous spirit who loves the mountain. Slavko regularly talks about travel, lifestyle design, holistic health and fitness. You can find his writings on popular magazines around the net, and his regular guides and columns in The Lifestyle Updated.