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"Arak Rayan", from Syria.

Arak or araq (Arabic: عرق, pronounced [ʕaraq]) is a clear, colourless, unsweetened aniseed-flavoured distilled alcoholic drink (also labeled as an Apéritif), produced and consumed in the Eastern Mediterranean and Northern African countries, Lebanon,Iran, Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. The word comes from Arabic ˤaraq عرق. Arak is not to be confused with the similarly named liquor, arrack (which in some cases, such as in Indonesia—especially Bali, also goes by the name arak). Another similarly sounding word is aragh, which in Armenia is the colloquial name of vodka, and not an aniseed-flavoured drink. Raki and ouzo are aniseed-flavored alcoholic drinks related to arak popular in Turkey and Greece.

Contents

Consumption

Arak with water and ice.

Arak is usually not drunk straight, but is mixed in approximately 1/3 arak to 2/3 water, and ice is then added. This dilution causes the clear liquor to turn a translucent milky-white colour; this is because anethole, the essential oil of anise, is soluble in alcohol but not in water. This results in an emulsion, whose fine droplets scatter the light and turn the liquid translucent, a phenomenon known as louching. Arak is also commonly mixed with teas and juices. Drinkers may also take arak with a chaser on the side. Arak is usually served with mezza, which could include dozens of small dishes, which many arak drinkers prefer as accompaniment rather than main courses. When the main course of the meal is served, it may hardly be touched, in favour of these smaller dishes. It is also well appreciated with barbecues, along with garlic sauce.

Tradition requires that water is added before ice. If ice is added directly, it results in the formation of an aesthetically unpleasant skin on the surface of the drink, as the ice causes the fat to solidify out of the arak. If water is added first, the ethanol causes the fat to emulsify, leading to the characteristic milky colour. For the same reason some drinkers prefer not to reuse an arak-filled glass. In restaurants, when a bottle of arak is ordered, the waiter will usually bring a number of glasses along with it for this reason, whilst at home with regular drinkers it's deemed unnecessary.

Preparation

Distillation begins with the vineyards and quality grapevines are the key to making good arak. The vines should be very mature and usually of a golden colour. Instead of being irrigated, the vineyards are left to the care of the Mediterranean climate and make use of the natural rain and sun. The grapes, which are harvested in late September and October, are crushed and put in barrels together with the juice (in Arabic El romeli) and left to ferment for three weeks. Occasionally the whole mix is stirred to release the CO2.

During the first distillation, the goal is to get the alcohol out of the mixture that has fermented for three weeks. The distillation is done using the alembic or el romeli also al karkeh, made of copper. This is made up of three sections. The lowest being a container used to boil what is inside (on fire). The middle part collects the vapors coming out of the boiling ingredients. The third part is used to cool the vapor that will be converted to liquid and collected on its way out, usually in a container of glass. The mixture of all the fermented and squeezed grapes is put into the lower part and it is boiled at a temperature around 80°C (the boiling point of alcohol), but below 100°C (boiling point of water). The aim is to collect all the alcohol whilst not allowing any of the water in to the container.

Aniseed on wooden table.

The finished product is made during the second distillation.. The alcohol collected in the first distillation is distilled again but this time it is mixed with aniseed. The alembic is washed to remove all the remains of the previous distillation. The alcohol and the aniseed are mixed together in the lower part of the karkeh (called in Arabic ddessett). The ratio of alcohol to aniseed may vary (approximately 600 grams of anise to 4.5 gallons of alcohol), and it is one of the major factors in the quality of the final product. Another distillation takes place, usually on the lowest possible temperature. The procedure is very slow.

Traditionally a drinking party takes place at the same time and people would gather to help the producer and have a drinking party. This is one of the most prestigious and traditional parties of the Lebanese mountains and it usually takes place in November.

Note: Once the first distillation is done, it's not mandatory to have the second one immediately after.

Variations

One of the basic varieties, considered by many to be the prototypical arak, is distilled from grapes and anise. Numerous varieties of arak are popular in all the countries edging the Mediterranean, and in parts of the Far East. In the Levant, it is distilled from fermented grape juice or, at times, sugar, and is considered by the inhabitants to be greatly superior to similar hard liquors in other countries. The same spirit is called Ouzo in Greece, Mastika in Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria and Rakı (another form of the word arak) in Turkey; they are made from a variety of products like grain, molasses, plums, figs and potatoes. Other similar drinks are the arak of Iraq, made from fermented date juice, and the zibib of Egypt, a peasant-made drink. An Iranian variant called Aragh-e Sagi (Persian: عرق سگی, literally dog's sweat) is produced without anise, and has a higher alcohol content than other varieties.

Further west, along the northern shores of the Mediterranean, the Italian anesone, French pastis and Spanish ojén, served as aperitifs or refreshers, are all sweeter versions of arak. In the Far East, the similarly sounding arrack is a different beverage distilled from palm sap or rice and devoid of anise flavor (it is known as soju in Korea and shōchū in Japan).

The ABV differs from one version to another, with the most alcoholic reaching 95% or even more. The best quality arak is usually between 73% and 80%; when mixed with water it is diluted to 35-45%.

Traditionally, arak was generally of local or village manufacture, but in the last few decades it has increasingly been produced in large manufacturing plants. It has remained the preference of those who enjoy alcoholic drinks in the Middle East, in competition with the many drinks imported from the West.

In Iraq, Arak is sometimes referred to as the "lions' milk" (Arabic: حليب سباع‎) ḥalīb sibāʕ, corresponding with Turkish aslan sütü -- most likely due to its milky appearance, and high alcohol content thought to only be tolerated by people "as strong as lions."

Lebanon considers arak its traditional alcoholic beverage and the name Arak Zahlawi is a "controlled term of origin" given by the Lebanese people to arak produced in Zahleh, Beqaa Valley.[1]

See also

References

Sources and external links

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