Bottoms up at Serbia’s rakija-drinking competition

A man sucks rakija, a fruit brandy, out of a barrel during the Rakija Festival drinking competition, in the central Serbian village of Pranjani April 29, 2019. — AFP pic
A man sucks rakija, a fruit brandy, out of a barrel during the Rakija Festival drinking competition, in the central Serbian village of Pranjani April 29, 2019. — AFP pic

PRANJANI, April 30 — Glass by glass, competitors gulped down litres of rakija — a fruit brandy as strong as it is beloved in the Balkans — in a rowdy drinking competition, not for the faint of heart, in rural Serbia.

To the rollicking sound of Balkan brass folk music, teams of four polished off a litre of the hard liquor between them in about 15 minutes Monday, before attempting a series of tasks, including walking across a wooden beam without toppling over.

Judges choose the winners based on “the speed and also the good mood of the participants,” explained Ljiljana Bralovic, founder of the Rakija festival, held for the past 16 years in the central village of Pranjani.

Dozens of locals gathered to watch the merriment which, predictably, got louder and wilder as the day went on.

A man reads measurement after a competitor sucked rakija, a fruit brandy, out of a barrel during the Rakija Festival drinking competition, in the central Serbian village of Pranjani April 29, 2019. — AFP pic
A man reads measurement after a competitor sucked rakija, a fruit brandy, out of a barrel during the Rakija Festival drinking competition, in the central Serbian village of Pranjani April 29, 2019. — AFP pic

Each team had a fifth member responsible for pouring the liquor, preventing spillage, and driving their teammates home.

The alcohol content of store-bought rakija hovers around 40 per cent but it is often significantly higher in homemade varieties, which are hugely popular across the Balkans.

The brandy can be distilled from a variety of fruits, including plum, quince, pear or grapes.

In Serbia and much of the region, the traditional spirit is part of life.

“From the moment a child is rocked in a cradle to the last moments of life, not one ritual can go without it,” summed up Bralovic.

Some people start their day with a coffee and a small glass of the drink. 

Members of the winning team celebrate after the Rakija Festival drinking competition, in the central Serbian village of Pranjani April 29, 2019. — AFP pic
Members of the winning team celebrate after the Rakija Festival drinking competition, in the central Serbian village of Pranjani April 29, 2019. — AFP pic

Enthusiasts sometimes credit rakija with near-divine properties, saying it can serve as a tonic for all kinds of aches and ailments.

“They say rakija is better than God: When God takes your wits away, he doesn’t give them back, while rakija, when you sober up, does,” Bralovic said with a smile.

One of the participants, Marko Vidakovic, said he came with friends who are part of a folk-dance group that often frequents Serbian festivals together.

“Our goal is not to get wasted but just to hang out with each other,” he said, optimistically, before the drinking began. — AFP

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