Updated: Aug 14
"The drink that keeps on giving....even the next morning"
Chacha, similar to grappa, is a liquor made from the leftovers after wine production. While generally a homemade concoction, it can be bought by several wine production companies as a "luxury" version or converted into a sort of Georgian Brandy. The drink is notorious for its strength and ability to weaken even the strongest of party-goers. Tourists who are unaware of this drink are often lured into trying it only to find themselves in their bed the following morning with a formidable headache.
Like wine, Chacha has a unique place on the tables across Georgia. However, unlike wine, this drink is much more of a ceremonial beverage. Used mostly for celebrations, special toasts, or on holidays, Chacha doesn't always make an appearance. For visitors, it is an easy way to not only make dinner with guests but also to show off one's own brand of the drink. Many guest houses and small family hotels provide their own homemade variants to guests as a perk of staying with them.
For American tourists, this will likely remind them of moonshine. While the differences are numerous, there are some similarities in the production and cultural importance. Unlike in America, Chacha production is not illegal but rather common and almost promoted as a use for the leftovers of wine production.
This drink is produced similarly to other homemade clear alcohols. The pomace from the winemaking process is gathered, stored in large containers for about a month to further ferment. Then, it is brought to a still, similar to that of the moonshine variety. The pomace is loaded in, but unlike other alcohol distillation many do not require a sugar or yeast to be added. This is due to the naturally occurring sugars in many Georgian grape types and the presence of a natural yeast in the pomace.
Homemade Chacha still (Photo from Georgian Journal)
With the pomace loaded into the still, the lid is firmly attached to the top. A cooling vat is connected to the funnel on the lid, filled with cold water, and a small wooden dripper is attached to the end nozzle. With the fire under the pot with the pomace in it being lit, the process begins.
In a short time, the clear liquid begins to run down the dripper into the bottle placed underneath it. This is the final product, and only needs to be tested for its potency. A small sip and a grin of approval are all that needs for the finished product to be stored for later consumption. For some, a few pieces of oak are left to sit in the Chacha, turning the drink into something more akin to cognac.
Because there is little hardline regulation on this drink, some might find it dangerous to consume such an alcoholic beverage. However, with many families producing this over generations, there is a sense of self-regulation and continuous improvement is naturally occurring. Many homemade varieties often grow into their own businesses, with up and coming labels reaching shelves every year.
If you get the opportunity to enjoy this iconic drink with the people of Georgia, it's likely to be a memorable experience for decades (assuming you recall the evening after its consumption). Just as with wine, its staple on the dinner tables and banquet halls of the nation is here to stay and play an integral part in celebrations for generations to come.
Cover photo credit: MikeReports