Monique Sutevski and James Projcevski on rakija: “It’s an extension of our DNA”

It started with a Macdeonian family. It started with a secret recipe that has been passed down for generations, from Europe to Australia, to create Sydney’s first rakija distillery. An ode to the traditional Balkan fruit spirit, Sydney’s Inner West cousin duo Monique Sutevski and James Projcevski are bringing a time-honoured tradition from their family to yours.

We spoke to DNA Distillery’s Co-Founders Monique and James about sharing their heritage with Australia, and the legacy and love that went into the making of their beloved DNA Rakija.

“To us, rakija is the expression of our identity, our family, culture and traditions,” said Monique. “It is a drink that represents life’s milestones. rakija is a drink of joy; for celebrating with family, cheersing with friends, and sipping on in between conversations. It has meaning – no matter who you are or where you come from.”

“When I, Monique, told my cousin James that I wanted to put my legal career on hold to make rakija, he was on board right away.”

“It just made sense, our family has been making rakija for five generations, it’s something we’ve been surrounded by our whole lives, it felt familiar, and it felt right. Gin has had a renaissance, why couldn’t we do the same with rakija?” added James.

“It feels weird to say, but it’s something that we just knew we had to do. We saw the magic that happens around [rakija] and wanted to share that with as many people as possible.”

Born from a passion that is rooted in family tradition, paying homage to their legacy comes naturally to Monique and James. Their branding creates a warm sense of nostalgia, putting a modern spin on their culture and using old family photos and videos to tell a captivating story.

“Our rakija reflects our own traditions and identity and is an extension of our DNA. But we also hope that people from other cultures and traditions around the world can relate and be brought together,” said Monique.

“The branding comes easily, everything you see is us. Our family, our memories, our heritage. It’s what we live and breathe every day.”

Born in Europe, and distilled in Australia, DNA Rakija is made from bold and full-bodied Australian shiraz grapes handpicked from 21-year vines, James explained how they put a distinctly Australian twist on their family’s recipe.

“We’ve taken our Dedo’s rakija recipe and upped the game. Same soul, better everything else.”

“The Australian climate is tough and that is reflected in the grapes Australia produces. The vineyards have to deal with multi-year droughts and the vines have to dig deep underground to source nutrients and water. This leads to bold and defined flavours that are often admired in the Australian wine industry.”

“Our rakija is crafted from select parcels of Australian produce sourced from award-winning boutique suppliers across Australia. Produced from sustainable and organic farming practices, no pesticides or chemicals are used. The produce is carefully grown, slowly ripened, handpicked and sorted. That which then makes the cut is fermented naturally – no additives; making for a perfect, organic wine.”

“The wine is then distilled immediately using a specialty still flown in from Poland – we only use the best to produce the best. We then distil our rakija a second time (two is always better than one) to eradicate impurities and ensure we only bottle the finest rakija there is.”

Despite picking up a multitude of world-class awards, including Best Other Brandy at the 2023 Singapore World Spirits Competition and Gold at the 2023 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, DNA Distillery still faces the challenge of changing the way we drink.

On their mission to educate the market about the magic of rakija, Monique and James are finding a home for rakija in Australia’s much loved cocktail culture.

“The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity, that it’s a relatively unknown spirit so we have the amazing opportunity to educate ourselves on what rakija is, how it tastes, and how it can be enjoyed. Through all of this, we aim to change the way people drink,” Monique explained.

“We dare anyone to try their favourite cocktail with our rakija substituted for their current spirit of choice. It will give you a fabulous twist to something you already love. Just substitute any clear spirits for our Classic Rakija or any golden/brown spirits for our Gold Rakija. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

“As a bartender, remember getting into the industry and being amazed by exploring new spirits and flavour profiles? DNA Rakija Is your opportunity to rekindle that again,” said Monique. “20 years ago nobody was playing around with gin or tequila, now it’s on every menu. It’s time for rakija to be the next thing that we all experiment with and enjoy.”  

After selling out within three months following their first launch, and taking home their first awards, Monqiue and James were ready to take their concept to a place nobody had been before. Fast forward to May 2023 and DNA is making history with the world’s first rakija and tonic in a can.

Teaming up with Marrickville diner Baba’s Place in a celebration of cultural diversity, DNA Distillery x Baba’s Place Rakija & Tonic pays homage to the suburban summers of their childhood, and their plans don’t stop there.

“We wanted to do something exciting, yet something to show how universally versatile rakija is in any cocktail and what better way than our play on a gin and tonic. Gin drinkers are an experimental bunch and are happy to try new gins, why not try a rakija and tonic,” said James.

“We’re always experimenting but the next few things to come from DNA will be the expansion of our RTD range, and possibly an addition to our spirits range by adding a plum-based rakija.”

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