Noooooo!!!! Burčak (pronounced bur-chak) season has ended! What will I do without strange new cultural drinks to entertain my pallet? Find more.
Burčak is an amazing, seasonal Czech beverage. It’s young wine: still sweet and innocent. The juice is light on alcohol since it’s not had enough time or experience enough to allow all the grape juice’s sugar to be converted to booze. My first (unwitting) experience with burčak was when John Tracy and I drank it at his grandmothers house. I was fifteen and she thought she was serving us homemade grape juice with lunch (after the first sip we turned to each other, wide-eyed, and asked for more then grabbed a couple jars on our way out).
Here, burčak is a seasonal drink and a small cottage industry (the Czechs love to make food and drink). It’s available here in the city but I’m told it’s slag compared with what you find in the villages. Yet, like so many amazing Czech things: you can’t find it processed, packaged and sold at Tesco – it’s only available homemade like another favorite of mine Nakládaný hermelín (pickled camembert style cheese). The down side being that when you’re an outsider looking in it can be hard to find the good stuff.
The bottle pictured above was bought in a dodgy Tobacco shop (a Tabák) in Andél. I was out taking a wander after class when I noticed a hand drawn sign in the window of a dingy little shop. The said “burčak” so I went to check it out. The dimly lit shop was filled with a light cloud of rank smoke and the walls were stained with tar. It’s wares were scattered haphazardly (bodega style): a pile of magazines, some racks of candy, cigarettes, drinks, and, in the back, two clear 40 liter plastic tubs glowing with golden burčak.
I said, “Burčak, proseem.”
He said something in Czech.
I shrugged. He held up a two liter bottle. I nodded and he filled it from tap. No tax stamps, FDA approval or licensing necessary. “Here’s your booze, I made it in my tub. Enjoy.”
And enjoy I did! In this case, the taste of burčak stands in sharp relief to the circumstances of it’s purchase. The first sip is sweet – so sweet – and lightly carbonated, like organic grape soda. After the second glass the sugar starts to destroy your taste buds causing Halloween-tounge. About then I happily cut it with a bit of sparkling water.
Seeing as it came in a recycled, unlabeled plastic bottle the alcohol content is indiscernible. However, it gets stronger each day it sits undrunk, consuming it’s sugars, but if I had to guess I would put the percentage around 4 or 5% – judging from it’s effects.
Sadly though, I post this to mark the end of burčak season for another year. It’s all been drank up, sold out and I’ve moved on to Svařák (pronounced like Svazjack): hot mulled wine.
Damn do I love seasons.