The practice of toasting to another's health or welfare and the clinking of glasses when first taking a sip of an alcoholic beverage goes back centuries. There's some scuttlebut about it having been a way to ensure your drinking partner hadn't poisoned your drink. But, today, as with most customs, toasting with an alcoholic beverage is a pleasant holdover that is traditional at auspicious occasions like the holidays, weddings, baptisms, funerals and more. Here are some of the most popular toasting beverages in Eastern Europe, plus how to say "cheers" and how to say "bon appétit."
The debate rages on as to who invented vodka -- Poles or Russians. Since the 14th century, Poles have been drinking vodka at every celebratory occasion. But Russians say they've been producing vodkas since the ninth century. A further debate exists as to the best vodka -- rye, wheat or potato-based. As with wine, it's whatever suits your palate best. Have fun figuring it out!
Ilia Goranov on Flickr.
Bulgaria has a flourishing wine industry and beer is coming into its own, but rakia is considered the national drink. Rakia, also spelled rakiya or rakija, is a clear alcohol similar to brandy, made by the distillation of fermented fruits (grapes, plums, apricots, pears, apples, cherries, figs, quinces). It has a high alcohol content and home concoctions sometimes exceed 60%, making it a potent drink. In Bulgaria, rakia made from grapes (like Italian grappa) is the most popular.
Serbian Christmas Eve or badnje vece wouldn't be the same without a hot toddy known as vruca rakija. This potent hot drink is made with caramelized sugar, slivovitz (plum brandy) and water. Every family and church group has its closely guarded recipe. After the traditional Christmas Eve vespers service and Yule log or badnjak burning, a great meatless meal is enjoyed with a sip of vruca rakija.
This warming drink is similar to German gluhwein, French vin chaud, and Swedish glogg. It's especially popular served outdoors at Christkindlmarkets and after sledding, skating or other outdoor winter activities. It's an aromatic blend of red wine, sugar and spices. Poles call it grzaniec galicyjski, Czechs call it svařené víno, Hungarians call it forralt bor, Serbs say kuvano vino, Croatians say kuhano vino, Bulgarians call it greyano vino, and Romanians call it vin fiert.
This recipe for Polish "eggnog" or kogel mogel (also known as gogl-mogl, gogel-mogel, gogle-mogle) is more of a dessert than a drink and can be made with or without alcohol. This dish dates to 17th-century Jewish communities in Central Europe, but it gained a resurgence in popularity during the Communist era of the 1980s when sweets were hard to come by. Freeze leftover egg whites and save for leftover egg white recipes.
Spicing vodka, whiskey or bourbon with peppers is an old tradition in Ukraine. Spiced vodka or peperivka is a beverage and a flavoring ingredient, especially for Ukrainian sausage known as kovbasa.
Honeyed vodka or krupnik, served hot or cold, is a favorite among Poles. And, since it's steeped in aromatic spices, less than top-shelf vodka will do just fine. Krupnik is the only alcoholic beverage served at the solemn wigilia or Christmas Eve dinner. No matter what temperature it's served at, krupnik warms the body from the inside out. Perfect for the holidays!
In Poland, an aged liqueur or cordial is known as nalewka, and literally translates to "tincture." They are primarily made with fruit, sugar, honey, molasses, herbs and spices macerated in vodka or rectified spirits known as spirytus rektyfikowany. But coffee, flower, honey, and specific spice nalewki like kardamonka (cardamom) exist.
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