Drinking the specialty of Georgia.
When you enter a former Soviet country one of the first things you often hear about is the local liquor, and you know that you are soon going to meet a group of people partying under a bridge somewhere who are going to try to dose you with a massive amount of it. The people generally make it themselves and are often exceptionally proud of it. They then use it to destroy treat their guests. The exchange often establishes rapport, it’s a way for people to bond.
The problem is that the alcohol content of the stuff is often insanely high, and drinking just a cup or two is enough to do in even a well-conditioned liver.
In Georgia the local liquor is called chacha. It is kind of like a clear brandy made from the leftover grape residue of wine making. Although chacha can be made from other fruits as well, such as figs, tangerines, oranges, or mulberries.
Traditionally, chacha is home brewed. The wine making tradition is very much alive in Georgia, having been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds if not thousands of years. For the most part, every family in the countryside is making their own wine and chacha, and people in cities will often regularly go out to their familial homes in the hinterlands to make these drinks. Even teenagers and young adults are into learning the tradition — this is a point of culture that is still very much cool.
The kid working at the hostel in Kutaisi told me that he goes out to the village once per month to tend to the vines, and when the season’s right he makes his own wine. From the look on his face he was intensely proud of his product.
“It’s a Georgian tradition,” he said. “It’s a very easy process. Only fire and it boils.”
As a traveler here you often get offered chacha almost wherever you go. Complete strangers in the streets will call you over to try some of theirs. Last night I was drinking it with a group of twenty year olds under a boardwalk on the beach of Anaklia, today the guy who operates the bathrooms and the train station in Kutaisi literally begged me to try some of his.
The stuff is strong, but has a sweet taste to it. People here down it almost like wine, filling plastic cups with it rather than shot glasses — which would probably be more appropriate. It is usually kept in plastic pop bottles and carried around with a little cup placed upside-down over the cap. If you see a Coke bottle filled with clear liquid here, trust me, it’s not water.
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