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A Non-Turk's Review of Yeni Raki, a Traditional Drink

I am one of those strange people who can go on what I like to call "intellectual kicks." I get something in my head and then I devour books, television shows, internet pages, and magazine articles on that subject until I flop down, sated, like an overfed walrus.

 

Last year, when Turkey was in the full swing of its election cycle, I was completely drawn in, following the news with an admittedly creepy intensity. I couldn't help it. This led to the inevitable reading of books, surfing of the web, etc. I read up on their history, their language, their food, and their alcohol.

One afternoon I was in a local DC liquor store, a very good one actually, when I found a bottle of Yeni Raki. Raki is a traditional Turkish drink flavored with anise. I don't think I had ever had anise before, but I knew it tasted like black liquorice, which I hate. But I was in full-fledged Turkophile mode at that point, so they could have told me it was flavored with dirty dish water and I probably - no definitely - would have still bought it.

Apparently, Turks sometimes mix the Raki with chilled water. Diluting the Raki with water turns the entire mixture milky white. Turks colloquially call the drink prepared this way "Lion's Milk." It puts hair on your chest and turns cowardly men heroic. It is also 90 proof.

I really didn't know what I was expecting when I made my first glass of Raki. Something like vodka with a hint of liquorice flavor? Whatever my expectations, I got way more than I bargained for. Instead of a mild taste, drinking Raki is like getting crushed by a liquorice freight train. It made my face contort and I think I even started sweating.

I made a glass for one of my friends. He loves liquorice. He tasted it and immediately said "This stuff is dangerous. It tastes like candy." Meanwhile, I had gone to the sink to wash my mouth out like I had guzzled turpentine.

So what is my overall impression of Raki? Well, first, I'm glad I tried it. I felt like a real Turk drinking it, except for the watery eyes and gagging. I can also say the drink really packs a wallop and I don't just mean the intense flavor. If you like that taste, you'll probably love Raki. I can see why the Turks were able to build a powerful empire drinking this stuff, but I think I'll stick to more wheat flavored beverages from now on.

Article written by John Burgess

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