Are Americans Ready to Rakia? W
hen Artisan Spirit caught up with Dor ol Spirits and founder Boyan Kalusevic, he was dealing with the all-too-familiar logistical headaches involved in the delivery of a new still. “Just another day in paradise,” Kalusevic laughs on a Tuesday afternoon in January. “We’ve had some 28-degree weather, which shut the city down, so the still is just sitting in Houston. The idea was that the still was supposed to come [last] Friday, but it didn’t clear customs until Monday.” Yes, the still—a 750-liter copper pot still to join its existing 400-liter unit—was en route from outside the U.S., but it wasn’t from an obvious distillery-equipment-manufacturing country like Germany. Its point of origin was a little more off-the-beaten-path: Serbia. That seems less illogical when you consider Dor ol’s flagship spirit: rakia, the traditional fruit brandy of many Southeastern and Central European countries, including Serbia. It’s also where Kalusevic spent the first 10 years of his life before immigrating to the states a quarter-century ago. His life has always been rakia-adjacent. His granddad was a distiller and winemaker in what would become Kalusevic’s company’s namesake: the Belgrade neighborhood of Dor ol. Kalusevic gets his stills from the same Serbian coppersmith family that made his grandfather’s equipment. “When we immigrated to the states, the family affair that was bootlegging was formed,” he recalls. “Every time we traveled back to Serbia, grandpa would send us back [to the states} with a couple of bottles.” Fast-forward a couple of decades and Kalusevic and old college friend and business partner Chris Mobley decide to go “legit” and give the Lone Star State its first taste of the apricot-based distillate in the form of Kinsman HandCrafted Premium Texas Rakia. We often hear distillers talk about the “labor of love” that is their chosen field, but, as a rakia producer, you’ve got to be willing to crank up that concept to 11. Managing a fruit supply, especially something as unpredictable as apricots, takes a special kind of commitment. “With a grain distillate, for the spirit alone, you’re looking at [a cost] of a couple of bucks a bottle, maybe a little less,” Kalusevic notes. “With fruit,” depending on the year, it’s between $14 and $19 a bottle. And that’s before you’ve dealt with the three-tier system or even talked about excise tax or added capital, or anything like that.” He likens purchasing his raw materials to buying futures in the financial world. “You’re pre-paying for a harvest at the beginning of the season, not knowing what the yield will be and you end up wrapping up a whole bunch of cash flow in ingredients that you’re trying to predict over the next 12 months,” he explains. “If you overbuy, you’ve overspent and if you under buy, you run out of product.”
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San Antonio’s Dorćol Spirits introduces Texas drinkers to a Serbian distilling tradition. WRITTEN BY JEFF CIOLETTI PHOTOGRAPHS PROVIDED BY DORĆOL SPIRITS
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