Extreme Rakija: Taking Shots to the Next Level in Vardarac, Baranja

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November 30, 2017 – The hunt is on for the most extreme rakija available in Croatia. The first candidate comes from a small village in Baranja which had its very own rakija festival until recently – Vardarac. 

It is probably fair to say that I have drunk slightly more alcohol than the average person in my 48 years of life. I have also been fortunate to have travelled to 95 countries and lived in ten. Combine the two, and it comes as perhaps no surprise that some rather dubious concoctions have passed my lips over the years. 

Some fond highlights include the banana beer in rural Rwanda just after the genocide which almost put me off beer for life, and the illegal Ethiopian gin in Somaliland that the local police then sold to us, and which did manage to send one of my Kenyan colleagues blind for 24 hours. My advice? If you are travelling in Somaliland, go dry like the locals. 

And then, of course, there was life first in the Soviet Union and a newly-independent Russia soon after. I quickly not only learned the popular drinking phrase, ‘Pod stolom!’ (Under the table!) and then quickly demonstrated why it was used, as my attempts to match the locals with their rapid vodka shots showed the frailty of my constitution. Once, on a train from St. Petersburg to Odessa, some Russians in our carriage got out a bottle of the hard stuff, the mandatory pickled gherkins and bread and gave me a shot. As is the tradition, we clinked glasses and downed the shot in one. 

At least I did. I remember thinking there was something odd as I gamely threw back my ‘200 grammes’, for as I did so, all the Russians merely took a sip, something I have never seen before or since in Russia. A nano-second later I realised why as the ‘vodka’ hit the back of the throat and almost dissolved it. As the pure alcohol continued its journey down my insides, I really thought I was going to die. The Russians? There were beside themselves with laughter, and then they showed me the label. Royal Spirt, 98% proof. One dollar, one litre. 


Croatia has been a worthy addition to my journey of drinking the quite unusual and the utterly undrinkable. As you know, many Croats make their own rakija, and each and every one of them swears that theirs is the best. Most of them are very wrong…

One of the unusual and tasty I have tried was at the excellent Olive Garden in Jadrija, close to Sibenik, a really fragrant rose liqueur, which was served through the petals of a fresh rose. Fabulous stuff. 

A recent conversation got me thinking – what is the most extreme rakija produced in Croatia? A post on my Facebook wall has already produced some wonderful responses, but we start with Frane, who sent me this photo (thank you, Sir!)


Assuming it to be somewhere in Asia, I did not pay much initial interest, but then I asked him where the photos were taken:

“‘Riđovka’, lat. Vipera berus, or in eng. the common European adder – drowned into something that you could clean even your worst sins from the 4th circle of Hell…
Selo Vardarac, nearby Osijek…”

I had never heard of the place, so I went to my G friend and typed in ‘Vardarac rakija’ and this is what I found:


A rakija festival! What could possibly go wrong…

Intrigued, I searched for evidence on YouTube and found this gem below. But everything was a little dated, so I called the very helpful local tourist board and asked for more information. 

The festival sadly no longer exists, and it has not been held since 2015, due to bureaucracy. I don’t think I am divulging too many state secrets when I saw that not all rakija in Croatia is certified and has all the appropriate documentation for legal sale. It was this fact that was the main factor to the end of the festival, and nothing to do with people drinking themselves to death. Or so I was told… You can learn more about Vardarac from the local tourist board website

Do you have an extreme rakija story from Croatia? Send us your photos and info to [email protected] 




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