The Czech Republic is broken down into three distinct regions: Bohemia (home to Prague), Moravia and Silesia. Bohemia is big on their beer, but ever since landing down in Prague a month ago for study abroad, I have noticed the country's love for wine through their many outdoor festivals, vendors, and tastings.
So, on my trip to Moravia a few weeks ago, I made it a point to find out what all the fuss was about this drink. That's when I discovered burčák, the "baby" wine.
What is it?
Burčák, aka federweisser, sturm, or vin bourru, is a commonly undiscovered drink by tourists all throughout Europe. It is a refreshing, bubbly drink made with grapes—typically white, although red is not uncommon—and yeast.
This drink is especially unique because it is only sold during the second half of the year, right around the time that the harvests have finished up and new wines are beginning to ferment for the next year. September, October and November are prime months for buying it.
And it tastes like straight up carbonated grape juice. If you hate the taste of alcohol, this might be your new favorite boozy drink.
How is it made?
For the most part, wine and burčák are made with a similar process. Like wine, burčák is made with grapes, natural or added yeast, and it is left to ferment for a period of time. I attended a Southern Moravian wine festival a few weeks ago, and I made sure to ask some locals how burčák is prepared, as opposed to wine.
I learned that the difference lies within the fact that burčák has to be closely monitored right from the start because within five to eight days, it enters the "burčák," or active, stage of the fermentation process. Once it does this, the batch could be good for five days, ten days, even up to three weeks. However, if you drink it after it has exited this phase, it takes on a bitter, sour taste, and continues on its way to wine.
The young wine, as it is often referred to, is stored in big vats. During the fall, one can buy burčák in a glass, a one liter bottle, or a two liter bottle from festivals and stands that cover most cities and towns in the Czech Republic. Once sold, buyers are told to drink it within a few days—although I can attest that a bottle can easily be gone in a few hours—so that it does not spoil.
#SpoonTip: Poke a hole in the cover to your bottle so that the air pressure from fermentation doesn't build and explode the bottle.
Why is it so great?
To me, burčák is—dare I say it—even better than wine. Aside from the fact that it will give you one of those "I didn't even know I was drunk until I stood up" sort of feelings, it actually has many health benefits according to locals.
High vitamin B and lactic acid levels, along with the instant energy boost from the fruity drink, make it a very popular alcoholic option. Additionally, burčák can aid and speed up digestion. Keep in mind, though, that like everything else, burčák must be taken in moderation to receive the full health benefits.
In addition to the health benefits, burčák is also extremely cheap. A one liter bottle can go for as little as 70Kč, which is equivalent to about $2.90 USD.
What's the catch?
It is true that there are many, many benefits to burčák. However, when buying the perfect sample, one must be careful of the following things:
Many times in bigger cities, especially outside of Moravia (i.e. Prague), people trying to make some quick cash will dupe you into buying what looks like burčák but actually isn't. Sometimes, if you aren't careful, you may buy fermenting apple or carrot juice. To tell the difference, just take a look at the color. If it isn't light, like white grape juice should be, it probably isn't burčák made from grapes.
Additionally, when bought, the fermenting wine has usually 3-5% alcohol content. However, because it is still well in the fermentation process, it continues to grow in alcohol content even after you have finished your glass or bottle. It is not uncommon that the burčák rises to have an alcohol content of 10-12% inside of your body. This is where, if not consumed responsibly, the danger may lie (or the fun, the line can be pretty blurry).
If you ever make it out to Moravia during wine season, make it a priority to Czech out some burčák (see what I did there). In all seriousness, it is a traditional, regional drink that you won't be able to experience anywhere else, and it is one that you definitely do not want to miss.