Drinking like a Bulgarian is no easy feat, whether you are invited as a guest at someone’s home or you are about to meet Bulgarian friends at a bar. Here are some of the essential things you need to know.
If you are invited as a guest, it’s a good idea to bring chocolates or a bottle of wine to the hosts. If, however, you are invited to the home of Bulgarians from the older generation (55+), you may skip the wine, because almost all of them drink only homemade wine. There’s no need to take anything else because, as you will soon realize, Bulgarian hospitality means a lot of food and an endless flow of alcohol.
Nazdrave (Naz-drah-veh) is the Bulgarian word for “Cheers.” It is sometimes accompanied by good blessings like “May we all be healthy and happy.” A local belief, often puzzling to foreigners, is that you can’t raise your glass for a toast if it’s not full of alcohol. Non-drinkers are thus “discriminated” against at parties, and hosts may keep on trying to pour alcohol in their glasses to make their participation in toasts “eligible.”
The most emblematic of all Bulgarian alcoholic drinks is rakia, the strong plum, grape, or other fruit brandy. Many Bulgarians distill their own rakia and are really proud to serve you their own product. The homemade rakia is usually much stronger than the one bought in stores.
Many people also create their own wine, although the best way to delve into Bulgarian wines is to visit a winery for a wine tour and a tasting. Some of the most important local grape varietals from which you can try wine are Mavrud, Broad-Leaf Melnik, Dimyat, Misket, and Gamza.
Sometimes, a mix of herbs is added to the wine to turn it into an explosion of aromas called Pelin.
If you are a beer lover, try what Bulgarian brewers create. The mainstream beer sold at supermarkets is lager and all tastes fairly similar, while the Bulgarian craft beer brands add variety in flavor and style.
A Bulgarian will answer you don’t need a special occasion to drink. Aside from birthdays and national holidays, Bulgarians have something called name days when the patron saint’s day is celebrated by the Orthodox Christian church. If you live for a while in Bulgaria, you will notice that almost every week, there is a name day and at least three people from your circle are throwing big parties. Weddings, funerals, baptizing ceremonies, baby births, friends returning for a while from abroad – these are all alcohol-worthy events.
You can’t, unless you are Russian. Like all Balkan people, Bulgarians are heavy drinkers. Both men and women consume beer, wine, and strong alcohol at significant amounts, many of them on daily basis. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are all alcoholics – they simply get used to it and even after a whole bottle of wine, a Bulgarian might look as if he or she has just had a bottle of water. So, with that in mind, it’s a futile endeavor to try to outdrink your Bulgarian friends.