Chacha probably isn't what you think it is.
Sure, there's the dance, but this ISN'T that. If you’ve ever been to Georgia (the country) and you’ve found yourself in a bar or restaurant, you’ve probably heard of chacha (ჭაჭა). I’d heard rave reviews about the wine and food, but nobody bothered to mention chacha to me before we moved here, which I’m pretty upset about. In writing this blog entry, I wanted to learn a little more about this drink, tell you about my experience with it, and let you know where you can find some if you’re not living in Georgia!
What is it, exactly?
Chacha is a Georgian liquor made from grapes- more on that below. People describe it in a few different ways to help foreigners understand what it is. I’ve heard it been called Georgian grappa or brandy and read that some people call it vine vodka. Whatever it’s called, it is easily categorized as the Georgian national drink and you can find it just about everywhere. Although technically (Georgians correct me if I’m wrong, and I know you will), chacha refers to any liquor made from fruit, the most common one is made from grapes. This stuff is nothing to joke about with a 45% alcohol content, at least. There are also lots of home-brewed versions which can get up to like 80% and are basically Georgian moonshine.
Originally, chacha was kept in Georgian villages as a remedy to use for minor, and probably a few major, injuries. You can find mention of chacha dating back to the XIX century and it originally comes from the Georgian highlands.
Me and Chacha
My first experience with chacha was at a local bar that I frequent. They have a sign on the wall that says, “Want free shot? Ask bartender when you hear the bell.” Free shot?!? Cool. So when E and I heard the bell, we go up to the bar and ask what the deal is. We’re then invited to play a dice game with the bartender- you’re given two dice and roll them from a cocktail shaker. If you roll higher than the bartender, you get a free shot. If the bartender rolls higher than you, you pay 3 Lari ($1.20). In my mind I’m all like, “booze and competition? Sign me up!”.
I won the free shot and found out that chacha tastes like liquid fire. I know people say that about other boozes, but no. It’s like shoving a lit, fruity candle down your throat. Luckily, it was served with a small slice of plum for a chaser, but it was rough! If you see E sometime, ask him about the young dutchman who took a shot with us one time- E still laughs about it.
After a few rounds of this game throughout the night, you realize that you never really win. I learned very quickly that chacha can either make your night really fun, or leave you with a crippling headache- most of the time a little bit of both. Because of my competitive side, I have a really hard time refusing to play this game, even after I know how it goes.
For the most part though, I tend to stay away from chacha, since you could honestly drink it everyday if you wanted. I reserve these shots for special occasions and would suggest a maximum of three shots if you want to survive to see the next morning. I want to be very clear and say that you will survive, but you most likely won’t enjoy the fact that you’ve survived.
How it's made
Let’s be honest- chacha is made from leftovers. In this case, Georgians are like my mom, who when there is just a little bit of soap left in the dispenser, she’ll add a little bit of water just to get the rest of it out. I mean, waste not, want not, am I right?
Chacha distillers basically use what is leftover AFTER wine is made, which is called pomace, and then double distilling that.
They let the pomace ferment, add vinegar, then there's some cooling process and then a heating process. I'm not a scientist. If you want specifics, this website has a lot of information!
Other, larger, “fancier” distilleries probably just have a larger version of that. If I ever make it to one and survive, I’ll make sure to take a photo to share with everyone. It’ll almost definitely be a very blurry photo.
Luckily for all of you living outside of Georgia (the country), chacha exports are on the rise! From January-October 2017, Georgian exported 219,183 bottles of chacha. It might not seem like much, but believe me, you just need a little. Worst case scenario, if you can’t find any, you’ll just have to come visit!
That's cheers in Georgian...