As a Balkan country, Bulgaria is heavily influenced by alcohol. Bulgarians drink when they are happy and sad, when they celebrate and mourn. Alcohol is offered as a gesture of hospitality, and people compete by comparing the quality of their homemade alcohol or by seeing who can drink more before passing out. If you visit Bulgaria for the first time, here are some of the most iconic Bulgarian alcoholic drinks you should try, including how and when to enjoy them.
If you are invited to a Bulgarian home, you are almost 100 percent sure to be offered a generous glass of rakia. This strong alcohol is distilled from fruits such as grapes, plums, pears, apricots, and others. It is infused with Bulgarian national pride, as many people still produce their own homemade rakia. It is served as an aperitif, usually accompanied by a large plate of Shopska salad or cured meat and local cheeses. During frosty winter days, it can be served hot with honey (and sometimes black pepper). The hot variety is also believed to be a remedy for colds.
Bulgaria has a wine tradition dating back thousands of years to the Ancient Thracians. Today, it takes pride in being a part of the world wine map, with local brands winning awards at international wine exhibitions. The country’s soil, climate, and topography make it ideal for cultivating international grape varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Sauvignon Blanc. However, if you want to truly immerse yourself in the local wine scene, you should try wines made from local grape varieties.
Pelin is a bitter wine-based drink. During the fermentation process, the herb artemisia absinthium (called pelin in Bulgarian, hence the name of the drink) is added to the wine. Pelin can be made from both white and red wine. It is relatively difficult to find on restaurant menus except at traditional establishments. However, if you have Bulgarian friends, you can ask them to find a bottle of homemade pelin for you.
Menta is a strong alcohol with a mint flavor that is symbolic of summer in Bulgaria. You will see many people on the beach enjoying refreshing bright green cocktails made with menta and sparkling water or menta and Sprite. The most daring combination to try is menta and milk. In the collective minds of the locals, menta represents vacation, the beach, and relaxation, so it is rarely consumed during any other season. The alcohol itself is made from mint leaves (or mint extract), sugar, and pure alcohol.
Another legendary summer alcoholic beverage, mastika, will remind you of Greek ouzo. It is served ice-cold and is initially clear until you add water or ice, which turns it cloudy and fills it with tiny crystals. The strong anise flavor is not everyone’s favorite, but it is worth trying at least once to experience a typical Bulgarian beach atmosphere.
Bulgaria is still relatively unknown among beer lovers, with only a few craft beer breweries in the country that are mostly unrecognized internationally. However, they can surprise you with unique flavor combinations and bold experiments. The most vibrant craft beer scene can be found in Sofia, where you will discover the highest number of beer shops, beer gardens, and specialized beer tastings.
For years, Bulgarians have been producing homemade fruit liqueurs using rakia as a base, with sour cherry liqueur (vishnovka) being the all-time favorite. These sweet alcoholic drinks are made from fruit, sugar, and strong alcohol, and are mainly favored by women.