Raki comes to the table

09 December, 2014

The raki sell is more than about anise-flavoured white spirit. 

As Yorgancioglu says, consumers outside of Turkey must first experience the context in which it is drunk. Here’s Erdir Zat – editor of Encyclopedia of Raki and author of Raki: The Spirit of Turkey, to tell us more: “Raki is a drink that has an entire cuisine devoted to it, unlike any other drink in the world. Wine is chosen according to the food it will accompany, but with raki, the food is chosen to accompany the drink. 

“This meal is also different from the western approach to dining. One doesn’t sit down at a rakı table to fill the stomach – it is about sharing, the long, relaxed conversation that revolves around the raki.”

Raki should be chilled and is often served 1:1 with chilled water, says Yorgancioglu, but adds that most drinkers will have their preferred ratio. Customarily it is sipped once at the start of the meal – after the Serefe (cheers) starter gun – but the emphasis is on slow drinking and slow eating, ideally over a three hour-plus sitting. 

Germany is home to about 160,000 9-litre cases of raki consumption per year (IWSR), thanks to its Turkish-descended contingent. According to Tina Ingwersen-Matthiesen, of Borco, Diageo’s distributor in Germany, Yeni’s positioning was defined in co-operation with consultancy company Effective Brands “to make Yeni raki, a local and traditional brand, a trendy and cosmopolitan beverage”. 

The brand positioning was reconsidered, says Ingwersen-Matthiesen, based on research carried out with 1,000 participants in Germany, England, US and Turkey. “The result: in a world which moves pretty fast, people want to slow down and take a break from the rush. It is important to enjoy small things in life, because they make the life happier and more meaningful,” she says. 

Piloting in Hamburg, Berlin and London, the campaign of ‘unrushing’ people’s lives fits nicely with the slow-food movement that is picking up pace in the west and a wider move among city dwellers to drink authentically. 

Demirtas says international expansion should talk about the category more generally. “We have a lot to do before we talk about brands,” he says and adds that he would be in favour of collaboration abroad. But in truth, with more than 80% of the market and a cluster of raki brands, Diageo has the portfolio, clout and knowhow to go it alone. 

Turkish and possibly Ottoman descendents who have a cultural stake in raki will provide the foothold. But foodies and hipsters who want the authentic experience, and converted returning holidaymakers, will be needed for real traction. Still, it seems a tough ask for raki to ever grow beyond the bounds of Turkish restaurants and diaspora shopping trips. 

But perhaps not every spirit has to compete with vodka or whisky. Even in low volumes, raki can take its place at the table of global spirits and build the conversation slowly, at all times unrushed.  

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