Rakomelo on Crete
Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.
Rakomelo: A Popular Souvenir
On a recent trip around Crete with www.gocrete.net we discovered lots of new Crete treats including petimezi and, here, making 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.
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.'
(c) Google Maps
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.'
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
'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!'
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.
Other Crete pages
Crete (Kriti) is the largest Greek island and its main attractions include the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the Samarian Gorge, Chania and Rethymnon.
The largest of the Greek islands, Crete has four ENUESCO sites, which are Sitia, Psiloritis, Asterousia, and the Gorge of Samaria.
The Dalabelos Estate offers luxury eco-tourism accommodation on Crete in the hills near Rethymnon with its own farm, vineyard and olive groves.
Crete’s wildlife and landscape are two of the island’s attractions, including gorges for hiking, rare raptors like the lammergeier, wildcats and ancient trees.
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.
The best things to do on Crete and top things to see include the Samaria Gorge, the Minoan Palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the towns of Chania and Rethymnon.
Crete festivals and events include Carnival Easter, Whitsun, Christmas, many other religious feast days and public holidays.
Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.
Greece Travel Secrets’ potted guide to Eastern Crete and why you should consider it for a holiday, including seeing Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, Vai Beach and Zakros.
How to see eastern Crete in five days, with its beaches, Minoan palaces, timeless villages, unique churches and mountain and coastal scenery.
Greece Travel Secrets discovers Sitia, the main town in eastern Crete, with its relaxing waterfront, inexpensive hotels, good food, and nearby ancient sites.
Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to eat in Eastern Crete including restaurants and tavernas in Elounda, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia, and Kato Zakros.
Greece Travel Secrets visits Visual Arts Crete who offer accommodation and run art courses at their home and studio in the village of Kastellos near Rethymnon.
Chania is the main city in Western Crete with a lovely setting and a beautiful harbour as well as several museums.
Greece Travel Secrets visits the Crete Botanical Gardens near Chania and finds a wonderland of colourful plants, trees, and flowers filling a lovely valley.
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.
Driving on Crete is the best way to see Greece’s biggest island and here is our driving advice and some information about Greek driving regulations.
These shopping tips for Crete include advice on buying souvenirs like ceramics, icons, jewellery, leather, weavings, wood carvings, and food and drink.
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.
Greece Travel Secrets page on Phaistos or Faistos, the site of one of the finest Minoan palaces on Crete and is where the mysterious Phaistos Disc was found.
Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.
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.
What was daily life as a Minoan like on Crete, living in palaces like the ones at Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros, and what were their religious beliefs?
Is someone from Crete a Greek or a Cretan? They are both, of course, but most will tell you that they are Cretan first and Greek second.
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