Fall in Washington, D.C. usually means hitting up breweries to taste the latest pumpkin beer concoctions, trying to come up with a timely Halloween costume and getting ready for the holidays. You can level up this fall by participating in Ambar’s Rakia Tasting Challenge. Through January 14, participants will have the opportunity to course through Ambar’s Rakia menu, which will feature 33 unique flavors. The challenge started earlier this month at the Balkan restaurant on Capitol Hill and will give visitors the opportunity to expand their horizons.
For those who are not familiar, Rakia is a fruit spirit or fruit brandy distilled from fermented fruits like apricots, pears or cherries. It also packs a punch, containing about 40% alcohol. It is also a traditional Balkan drink, and every country and region within each country puts its own special spin on the beverage.
“Every household will have a couple of liters of homemade Rakia at home,” says Uros Jojic, Ambar D.C.’s General Manager. “Every village will have someone who makes Rakia at home, so it gives people the chance to support a small business.”
Rakia is also a very social drink and can be served at any time of day and in any situation.
“If somebody comes to visit, drink coffee, or say hello, Rakia is something you would immediately pour — almost like serving water,” Jojic says.
Ambar’s rakia flavor selections are as varied as their locations of origin. Guests can look forward to the “Zaric Plum,” produced from fully ripe plum fruits of Trnovaca, Pozegaca and Crvena ranka cultivated in the sunny slopes of the hills in the vicinity of Kosjeric; the “Zaric Koketa Cherry,” a fruit liqueur without artificial flavoring made exclusively from cherry distillate and squeezed cherry juice; and the “Hubert Apricot,” a fruit brandy made from handpicked apricot, which is crafted in the traditional way using an old family recipe, [that’s] double distilled in copper stills.
The restaurant’s partnership with Balkan distributors will give guests an authentic opportunity to learn more about the region’s agriculture and the specialties within it. Jojic tells me that Rakia is as specific to the fruit and where it is harvested as wine and tequila, so the challenge will be benefiting from his insider knowledge.
“Every region will say their Rakia is the best, which really drives the competitive spirit…I know which places in Serbia have the best apricots, so I am going to get the apricot Rakia from that area.”
This deliciously versatile beverage seems to have something for everyone, such as grape varieties from Bulgaria and Montenegro and raspberry flavors from Serbia.
Having previously done the challenge several years ago, Jojic wanted to introduce his guests to Rakia and expand Ambar’s selections in D.C. to bring the drink to the American market.
“We were very successful our first time around in exposing and educating our guests to Rakia.”
So much so, in fact, that a guest completed the challenge in seven days and the restaurant came very close to being admitted to the Guinness Book of Records for its variety of offerings.
“Through this challenge, I hope to expose people to Balkan food and flavors and do our best to offer the best Rakia in this market.”
Anyone looking to participate in the challenge — particularly those who may not have had it before — can follow the recommendations of the expert himself. Jojic recommends having a shot of Rakia before a meal to work up their appetite.
“Guests should have Rakia throughout the meal as well and also have some after dessert.”
It is best to start off with something sweeter and sip it slowly. The honey and cherry flavors will provide a delectable introduction to Rakia, and Jojic recommends working one’s way up to some of the more popular flavors like apricot, pear, or plum. Each shot will cost between $9 and $10 per serving.
To sign up, guests can download an app that will serve as a digital passport. As they work their way through the menu, they will rack up stamps that will make them eligible for a wide array of prices. Completion of the challenge is only possible if guests sample each flavor listed on the Rakia tasting card posted online. After ten tastings, participants will receive a complimentary 1.5-ounce pour of Rakia. After 20 tastings, participants are eligible for a second free pour. For those daring enough to get all 33, they will receive a personalized 750 mL bottle of a Rakia flavor of their choice, to be stored in a private locker with their name on it for future enjoyment at Ambar. Anyone looking to up the ante and become eligible for a $50 gift card can submit a minimum of five photos documenting their Rakia tasting experience at the restaurant.
Ambar has locations in Capitol Hill and Arlington, VA.
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