Making Rakomelo on Crete

On a recent trip around Crete with www.gocrete.net we discovered lots of new Crete treats including petimezi and, here, making rakomelo.

Bottle of rakomelo from Crete
Bottle of rakomelo from Crete

Rakomelo: A Popular Souvenir

What is Rakomelo?

If you know any Greek you can figure out that rakomelo combines raki with meli: raki and honey. So it's a sweet alcoholic drink, flavoured with spices, particularly cinnamon. Everyone has a slightly different recipe, and it's made on several Aegean islands, on the Greek mainland and also on Crete.

We wanted to learn more about rakomelo, so our guide Isidoros from www.GoCrete.net tracked down Jorgos Kourmoulis. Jorgos makes rakomelo for his family and friends but his recipe is so good that a company in Canada wants him to go into commercial production to make rakomelo for them.

Jorgos Kourmoulis

We met Jorgos at his sister Niki's café, the Mylos Café, in the village of Agouseliana, about a half-hour south of Rethymnon. It was early evening and we were on our way to Agiroupoli, where we were going to spend the night. This being Crete, Jorgos of course poured us some raki to clink glasses, and Isi translated as Jorgos shared his rakomelo secrets.

'First,' he said, 'you have to find good quality raki.' The raki we were drinking was super-smooth so it's obvious Jorgos had found a good source.

'After the first distillation you put the raki in the same pot and you add the dried herbs. During the second distillation the herbs give all the extracts. Before you use the herbs they have to be dried in a shady and well-ventilated place, not in direct sun. But they have to be cut at the right moment, when they have the flowers. Each herb is collected at a different time, from early June to early September. Another important thing is that when you cut the herbs the moon has to be in the growing stage, waxing, because then all the important elements are in the herb, not in the roots.'

Map showing Rethimno in Northern Crete(c) Google Maps

Rakomelo Recipe

Jorgos uses a recipe from Agouseliana, which calls for various herbs that Jorgo picks in the mountains around They include thyme, salvia, a kind of mint (mentha pulegium or pennyroyal) and another kind of thyme (thymus capitatus). After the second distillation he stops the procedure when the raki is about 40%ABV and is still warm, but not hot, and this is the time to add the honey, which is mainly thyme honey.

'If it's not warm the honey won't mix,' he says, 'and if it's too hot you lose the flavour of the honey.'

Ceylon Cinnamon

It's also now that another vital ingredient is added, Ceylon cinnamon, which also helps to give the drink its brandy-like colour. Jorgos explains that Ceylon cinnamon is eight times more expensive than regular cinnamon, but it's vital to get the best quality. Some makers use cheap cinnamon to cut costs, and some even use cinnamon flavouring, but Jorgos wants the best rakomelo he can produce. With the addition of the cinnamon stick and honey, Jorgos leaves the mix for 20-30 days. Then when it's clear it's ready to bottle.

'It's a superfood!' he tells us. 'The grannies of the village would drink a glass every morning and they live for many years. They also have a glass when they come back from working in the fields, especially when they're wet and they're protected from the cold. French scientific research that has been done over about eight years says that thyme can kill bacteria from the body within one minute, especially for deep diseases of the lung and bronchitis.'

Greek Distilling Regulations

At the moment Greek regulations mean that Jorgos can only produce 100 kilos for family and friends before it's regarded as a commercial production and all kinds of rules and expenses come into play.

'Two years ago,' he explains, 'the Greek state changed the law about distillation and made it very strict and very expensive. If you want to be legal and sell it then you must have a custom licence. To get the licence you need the proper storage space, and you need to have a special machine so you can print on the bottle which cannot be removed. The cost of this machine and the storage and the licence is about 100,000 euros. This is just to start. Then you have to pay 11 euros per litre in taxes per 100% alcohol. The final proof of the rakomelo is 29-30% ABV so the tax is about €3 per litre.'

The Perfect Recipe!

Jorgos has spent two years perfecting his recipe, but his perfectionism may be paying off. He sent samples of his drink to a company in Canada that were interested in it, and someone is coming to Athens to discuss it.

'But they want 200,000 litres,' Jorgos says, which is quite a step up from 100 kilos. 'Imagine how much honey you would need! The mountains are full of herbs, and I can get the honey and the raki. The problem is the storage rooms and the cost.'

Despite the hurdles, Jorgos is looking at how to raise the money to go into commercial production.

'In a society that is getting poorer and poorer,' he says, 'two things flourish: gambling and alcohol. In the last few years rakomelo is one of the top choices for tourists to buy.'

He clinks our raki glasses again.

'Yammas! The most important thing is to love what you're doing!'

Sign for cafe and snack bar Mylos on Crete

If you want to try some of Jorgos's rakomelo, you'll find the Mylos Café next to the war memorial in the village of Agouseliana.

Greece Travel Secrets would like to thank www.gocrete.net for arranging the meeting as an additional stop on one of their tours of Crete.

Some other Crete pages

  • Chania, in Western Crete

    Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.

  • Knossos

    Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.

  • Rouvas Gorge Walk

    This Rouvas Gorge walk starts and ends in Zaros in southern Crete and should take three to four hours with a distance of eight kilometres or five miles.

  • Irakleio

    Crete's capital and largest city is Irakleio, also called Iraklion or Heraklion, a large and busy place with good restaurants, museums and historical buildings.

  • Keramos Studios in Zaros

    Keramos Studios in Zaros on Crete is an inexpensive two-star hotel/guesthouse with one of the best breakfasts on the island using food from the family’s farm.

  • Dining at Vegera

    Greece Travel Secrets eats at Vegera in Zaros and finds a cheap but wonderful feast of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes cooked daily with fresh local food.

  • Lasithi Plateau Drive

    This Lasithi Plateau drive on Crete starts in Neapoli and ends in Malia, covering a distance of 80 km (50 miles) and taking two to three hours.

  • Crete

    Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.

  • Olive Grove Walk

    This olive grove walk from Limnes to Vrises on Crete also takes you through orchards and gives close-up views of some of the island’s windmills.

  • Zacharioudakis Winery

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Zacharioudakis Winery near Ancient Gortina in southern Crete, and does a vineyard tour arranged by our guide from Go Crete.

  • Amari Valley Drive

    This Amari Valley drive in southern Crete starts and ends in Ayia Galini, takes four to five hours and cover 100 kilometres or 62 miles.

  • Malia and its Minoan Palace on Crete

    Malia on the north coast of Crete is renowned for its nightlife and beaches but also has the Minoan Palace of Malia, one of Crete's many archaeological sites.

  • Paleohora and the South-West Coast

    The area east from Paleohora along the south-west coast of Crete includes resorts like Agia Galini, gorges like the Imbros Gorge and quieter towns like Sfakia.

  • How to Make Petimezi

    How to make Petimezi, the sweet Cretan syrup made from wine must, is explained to Greece Travel Secrets.

  • Hiking the Samaria Gorge

    Hiking the Samaria Gorge on Crete, one of the best things to do on Crete, by Greece Travel Secrets.

  • Hiking in Southwest Crete

    Greece Travel Secrets goes hiking in southwest Crete with Ramblers Walking Holidays based in Paleohora and hiking the E4 footpath and to Anidri and Azogires.

  • Ancient Gournia Minoan Site in Eastern Crete

    Ancient Gournia is a Minoan archaeological site between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia in Eastern Crete where the visitor can see evidence of a maze of back streets.

  • Goules Taverna Crete

    The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.

  • Gortina ancient archaeological site in southern Crete

    Ancient Gortina is an archaeological site in southern Crete famous for the church of Ayios Titos and for the Law Code inscribed here, the first in Europe.

  • Elounda and Spinalonga, setting for The Island by Victoria Hislop

    Elounda on Crete's north coast is a popular holiday town with a pretty harbour, from where you can take day trips by boat to see the island of Spinalonga.

  • Eco-Tourism Accommodation on Crete

    The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.

  • Diktean Cave, the Birthplace of Zeus near Psychro on Crete

    The Diktean or Diktaean Cave, also known as the Psychro Cave, near the village of Psychro in eastern Crete, is said to be the birthplace of Zeus.

  • Crete Olive Oil Tour

    For a Crete olive oil tour Greece Travel Secrets visits Biolea, one of the few olive oil factories on Crete that you can visit.

  • Crete Festivals and Events

    Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.

  • Cretan Writers and Artists

    The most famous Cretan writers and artists include the painter El Greco and the author of Zorba the Greek, Nikos Kazantzakis.

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