At our tour concert in Hungary – the passenger buss filled with kids from Serbia has arrived. They offered me a bottle in backstage: “Try, this is rakija from Serbia!” Till then I knew nothing about Serbia, nonetheless about rakija. I was sipping on it the entire night, and then on our tour buss, while on tour, for the few following days. And that’s how I fell in love…
Rock’n’Roll fans in Serbia, America, and around the entire wide world know Bill Gould as a founder and a base player of one of the best known Rock’n’Roll bands in the past thirty years, Faith no More. As the things are, soon enough-they are going to get to know him better as a producer of a home made Serbian Shljivovica, under the brand name (puritans, close your eyes now) –Yebiga!
Inspiration for the name, as Bill claims, he didn’t found in a profanity, as some would anticipate, but in the expression used in a specific moment in Serbia and Balkans when one feels way too good-to leave and get going somewhere were “they” have had planed to go just a few moments earlier. Therefore; nothing is so important as it seamed to be, there is no rush, nor nervousness, because in front of you, on a table, in your hand, you got…RAKIYA!
In an exclusive interview that he gave for Serbian Times, Bill is talking about how he got introduced to an ancient drink while he was touring Balkans, and how the newborn love – transcended into something higher. That Transcendent High is in transition to become a grand Serbo-American brand, because this Californian Rock Star is preparing to distribute his Rakija brewed in a village next to the city of Kraljevo (Serbia) – all over America.
But, let us start from the beginning…
When and where did you first time tried Rakija?
-That was 1991. in Budapest. A big buss full of kids from Serbia has arrived to our concert. We were beginners then, never before we played any big solo concert, besides with Guns’n’Roses. Kids mingled in the backstage (security seamed little loose for the assignment), and in the one moment they told me: “Hey, try this, this is Rakija from Serbia!”. Till then I never knew anything about Serbia, nor about Rakija. They gave me a bottle; I tasted it that night, and a then I had some on the buss, for the next couple of days while we were touring. And that’s how I fell in love.
What was your first impression?
-I really, really, really liked it. I knew it was homemade, you could taste, or better said feel that flavor.
In the next couple of years I visited Balkans at least 30-40 times. Touring with my band, I was staying at the fans houses, and sleeping on the floors. And everybody had some “Grandpa’s Rakija”.Bill Gould
What did you feel when Rakija went down your throat?
-That’s a good question. It was something new, totally different. I didn’t have experience at that time, I don’t remember the taste very well, but I remember – I felt really good. Today I know what kind of feeling that was. At that time that was just one more new “thing”, I have had to try with my band… the local specialty.
The Idea of Yebiga was born then?
No, much latter. I needed to drink a lot more of rakija (laughter). In the next couple of years I visited Balkans at least 30-40 times. Touring with my band, I was staying at the fans houses, and sleeping on the floors. And everybody had some “Grandpa’s Rakija”.
When we were visiting Macedonia, those kids would steal rakija form they Folks, to treat us. So, I tasted a lot of good stuff. So, my love with rakija went that far that I started bringing it back home to California. Or, if any of my friends were going to Serbia, I would ask them if they could bring me some-few bottles back. So majority was Shljivovica, but I tasted Quince, Apricot, good stuff. San Francisco, my neighborhood, is well known by excellent Bars that serve locally made beverage. Various beer on tap (“craft beer”), cocktails, things like ‘mixology” originated there… Many people I knew were in that business, bar and club owners, and alcoholic beverage distributors. None of them ever heard about Rakiya, nobody knew what that was. But I constantly talked about it. ““What did you say that drink you can’t shut up about was called, “Rock….?, Rocky? “Damn it, what Rocky?! …..IT’S RAKIYA!!!”” Explaining drove me crazy. Finally I decided to bring some Rakija, so they can try it. I got an idea that I could sell Rakiya, I shared it with my peers, and everyone agreed. “If you really are so hyped up about it, it must be worth smoothing.”. And that’s how everything begun.
There are many good Rakijas made all over the Balkans, Macedonian is great, Montenegrian is a “killer”, Bosnian also…., but, Serbian has the finest most complex flavor. Also Plums from Serbia are very unique, simply the best.
So what year did lay out that devilish blue print?
-That was about 2.5 Years ago. I visited Bulgaria with my buddies band, we were in the middle of nowhere. The Governor of the place was a big fan of FNM, and he invited me to his residence for an 8am coffee. Well of course, according to a Balkan Tradition, with coffee Rakiya was served as well. I was so hangover from the last night. However, I couldn`t refuse the rakiya THAT GOOD. And this one was very special. I purchased 10 bottles and brought it home. I was curious what would my guys say after tasting it. I visited my distributor an acquaintance and pored one shot for him to try. He tasted it he looked at me and said, “If you can bring this over here, we are partners. ”I was pleasantly surprised, “Are you serious?” I asked. He wasn’t really reliable in terms of business ventures, he blew me off soon enough, but the pleasure flame I have seen in his eyes when he tried Rakiya, convinced me that this might work. “Fuck it, if I have had already dragged back so much Rakija from Bulgaria, then why wouldn’t I go to Serbia, where they have much better Rakiya?!?”
Why Serbian Rakija, what is so special about it?
-It bought me because the production process in Serbia is the most sophisticated. There are many good Rakijas made all over the Balkans, Macedonian is great, Montenegrian is a “killer”, Bosnian also…., but, Serbian has the finest most complex flavor. Also Plums from Serbia are very unique, simply the best.
So how did you finally got to meet your partners-people with whom today you are manufacturing “Yebiga”?
-They are from small Kraljevo City suburbs. I invested a lot of time in exploring and tasting all sorts of Rakija. I found an excellent blog titled “Rakija Mostly” a group of people that were discussing and grading Rakija in one specific way. They were upset about negative, and sometimes insulting talks about Rakija. I have arrived to Belgrade, and spent there one whole week, I met those guys, and quickly we befriended each other. We hanged around, and we tried many things. We got stuck in their office for several days and nights, tasting. That was one incredible experience. And then, one night before returning home, I stopped by one hotel hosting a Vine Festival, where one entire floor was dedicated to Rakija…., and there I have discovered the best of all! The one today called “Yebiga”
Two months later the first batch has arrived, I packed up my backpack and begun itinerating entire west coast, Bar to Bar. Nobody knew who I was…Bill Gould
And…, what happened after that…?
-I started planning how to get imported into USA. And that’s not an easy job at all; alcohol is in a same category as firearms, the two most complicated items for import. One distributing center helped me, but under one condition-that I am going to be the one promoting, educating, and explaining to people what it is all about, and also sale responsibility became mine once it has reached San Francisco. Two months later the first batch has arrived, I packed up my backpack and begun itinerating entire west coast, Bar to Bar. Nobody knew who I was.
Wait, how is that possible, you are an icon of Faith no More….?
-No, I never brought that up about me in any conversation, I have been introducing myself as Rakija manufacturer from Serbia. Probably that’s what threw them off into confusion. My wish was to hear an objective opinion about Rakija that was in a trunk of my car, and not to be flattered because I am Bill Gould from Faith no More.
So, what were their reactions?
-One day I walked into the place by name “Tartine Manufactury”, one more of the exclusive famous restaurants. The manager attentively listened what I had to say, he had one shot of it, and asked to purchase several bottles. Immediately. There was the same reaction in a few other places. So that’s how one month ago I sold my first bottle.
Let’s get back shortly to Serbia and Kraljevo…Have you ever watched how your Rakija is made?
-Yes of course! This is a third generation of family produced Rakija recipe. The same farm, the same fruit, the same procedure. And everything done traditionally, the whole machinery appears little rustic, however, I concluded that’s how is supposed to be. The main production man has Fermatology PHD. He knows how to preserve the traditional process, and how to maintain the same quality, strength, and flavor, regardless of the plum trees annual fruit output. Excellent combination of sophisticated traditional knowledge and unaltered natural processing.
Probably I can produce rakiya in the U.S. But I wouldn’t do that right now. Serbia has an amazing soil, climate and fruit, also plum trees, why would I take that risk? For now we are going to stick with tradition and quality, of the real rakija.Bill Gould
You started with Plum Rakija. Are you planning to introduce to your production line flavors of other fruit?
-Of course. But I carefully estimated and concluded that (Plum) Shljivovica is The Queen! Since I started “dancing with the Queen” from the start, the further possibilities became unlimited; so many cool things can be made.
Where did you find photo of Yebiga Logo granny?
-Granny Ljubica is a very popular woman, otherwise she is from Croatia.
That sounds like a Serbian name…..?
-I already heard that. It’s very possible that she is from Croatian areas with Serbian population. Ljubica was making rakija until her death, when she past away she was 102 years old. That tells a lot….
Therefore; rakija as a recipe for a long and good life, longevity elixir….
-That’s what people say. I wouldn’t argue with them (laughter)
Do you think rakija of that quality could be made in USA?
-Probably. But I wouldn’t do that right now. Serbia has an amazing soil, climate and fruit, also plum trees, why would I take that risk? USA production? Maybe… one day, Northern Cali, Washington State, who knows…? For now we are going to stick with tradition and quality, of the real rakija.
How much rakiya could you handle, literally?
-Well now…. Last night four of us finished one litter bottle, and I was good. (laugh)
What is the difference between rakija and other “hard liquor” you have tried so far?
-My statement is going to be very subjective. Rakiya is not for fancy crowd, she is for the smart type of people, who know how to handle liquor. With rakija everything is balanced, and you don’t need a lot to feel good. It’s like a perfectly made stake. Other brandies have some type of special flavor, make up, and being mixed with anything to make them more attractive. That creates some sort of neurotic vibe, while on the other side with a good Shljivovica you are still firmly on the ground, and stable. Complete satisfaction. You go to a bar and drink it without worry that is going to sabotage you, but it’s always going to bring to light your positive characteristics. You can drink it slowly, and the whole night, without getting sick. Ups.., I sound like I got addicted (Laughter)
Do you think that rakija has some connection with that part of the world and people who make it, do you think it flows with mentality of those who make it…?
-I do think that. When you try rakiya in Bosnia and Serbia, at the first glance it’s the same, but it’s not. The feeling is completely different. That’s a very complex thing that reaches deeply into the subconscious. When I am drinking rakiya in some Serbian cellar, I feel everything that surrounds me people, country, and love.
Every time I latter try that same rakija, she always takes me back in that same cellar.
The text on your site www.yebiga.com states: “No more suitcases filled with broken bottles, you don’t have to wait anymore Dragana to get married, or Grandpa to die…. Now every day you can enjoy essential perfection of home made craftsmanship-with “Yebiga” Rakiya? Who wrote this, some Serbian, your friend?
-No, that’s my text. In deed, Dragana is not a real person, for those who would maybe want to get married with her(laughter). That’s the point. Rakija cannot be mailed; it’s very hard to bring it from the Balkans on a private trip, on an airplane. You can put it in the suitcase, risking bottle braking damaging everything in it. Last time I had 18 Serbian rakiya bottles on me, only one broke and shattered destroying suitcase and everything in it. I wish to solve that problem once forever!
That’s a common problem for people from Serbia and Balkans….
-I know. I desire that all of us who love her to be able to have her here, on this face of the planet. I have no further desire to consume any industrial bullshit in America; I want to have the real rakija here, on a table, in a glass.
IN A NEXT ADDITION: With Bill Gould about Rock’n’Roll, Faith no More, travels, Balkans, about how the song “Prishtina” was made, about Serbians and Albanians…
Story&Photo by Antonije Kovačević