Raki is a non-sweet usually anise-flavored apéritif that is produced by twice distilling either only suma or suma that has been mixed with ethyl alcohol in traditional copper alembics of 5000 litres volume or less with aniseed. It is similar to several kinds of alcoholic beverages available in the Mediterranean and parts of the Balkans, including pastis and ouzo. In the Balkans, however, raki refers to a non-anise-flavored drink made from distilled pomace, similar to Italian grappa, Greek tsipouro, Cretan tsikoudia, Cypriot zivania and Spanish orujo.
In Turkey, raki is the unofficial 'national drink' and it is traditionally drunk mixed with water; the dilution causes this alcoholic drink to turn a milky-white colour, and possibly because of its colour, this mixture is popularly called aslan sutu (or arslan sutu), literally meaning "lion's milk" (a(r)slan is also used to mean strong, brave man, hence milk for the brave).
In the Ottoman Empire, due to the Islamic restrictions, until 19th century meyhanes generally run by Greeks, but sometimes also by Albanians, Armenians, or Jews would mainly serve wine along with meze. Although there were many Muslims among meyhane attendants, sharia authorities could, at times, persecute them. With the relatively liberal atmosphere of Tanzimat Turkey, meyhane attendance among Muslims rose considerably. However, believers would still approach wine with a certain suspicion. Raki became a favourite among meyhane-goers. By the end of the century, raki took its current standard form and its consumption surpassed that of wine.
During the days of the Ottoman Empire, raki was produced by distillation of grape pomace (cibre) obtained during wine fermentation. When the amount of pomace was not sufficient, alcohol imported from Europe would be added. If anise was not added, it would take the name duz raki (straight raki) or douziko (in Greek). Raki prepared with the addition of gum mastic was named sakiz rakisi (gum raki) or mastika, especially produced on the island of Tenedos.
During the first years of the Republic, a grape-based raki began to be distilled by the state-owned spirits monopoly, Tekel (literally meaning "Monopoly"). With increasing sugar beet production, Tekel also began to distill the alcohol from molasses. A new brand of raki made from sugar-beet alcohol was called Yeni Raki (literally "New Raki"). Molasses gave raki a distinctive bitter taste and helped it to become popular.
Ways of drinking
In Turkey, raki is consumed with meze (a selection of appetisers or small dishes taken with alcohol); it is especially popular with white cheese and melon and with fish. Raki is generally drunk mixed with cold water. Ice cubes may be added, preferably to diluted raki, since its anise may otherwise crystallize. When the water is added, the mixture turns a whitish colour, similar to the louche of absinthe. In addition to mixing raki with water in its own glass, it is customary to drink raki with a separate but complementary beverage. For the casual raki drinker, a glass of cold water is suitable. For the serious connoisseur of raki with kebab, a glass of salgam stands as the best accompaniment to Lion's Milk. Sometimes raki is drunk with ayran (in a separate glass), which is said to prevent hangover