View Full Version : Arak/Arrack
I like to try different alcohols, to see the range offered in the world.
In my earlier years, I tended to experiment with fruit-derived distillates such as Cognac and other brandies; the white alcohols of Alsace and Germany such as Kirsch or pear brandy; and Slivovitz and similar drinks from Eastern Europe.
In later years, I concentrated more on grain-derived drinks including whisk(e)y, genever, London gin, vodka and ackavit.
Finally, I got the taste for tequila and have a small selection.
I was never a big fan of the anise-flavored alcohols such as the (French) Pernod and Ricard, (Greek) Ouzo, and Arak. These drinks are broadly, to (informed, at any rate) U.S. consumers, Anisette. I found the hit of black licorice too dominating.
Still, I bought a number of these, partly to complete a fairly wide-ranging spirits collection, and partly for use in Sazerac cocktails which require a light touch of an anise alcohol. After it was possible to obtain absinthe legally in Canada, I bought some of those since most seem inclined to an anise palate, plus I wanted to investigate the mystique of absinthe.
In my small arak collection, I have:
- Arak Fakra (55% ABV, from Lebanon)
- L'Arack de Ksara (also Lebanese, 53% ABV)
- Arrack (35% ABV from Sri Lanka)
- Arrack VSOP (40% ABV also from Sri Lanka and made by the same company that makes the 35% ABV Arrack mentioned above).
These work supremely well in a Sazerac cocktail. But lately I've been trying them on their own.
The Sri Lankan ones are derived from a ferment using coconut. They have quite a distinctive, almost semi-wild taste. I couldn't say it is a taste derived from coconut as such. The palate is interesting however and generally I add a shot of one of these to a porter beer, following a tip given in one of Michael Jackson's early books.
As for the Lebanon araks, of the two I have, I prefer Arak Fakra. It has a strong taste of licorice but is well-balanced and complex. The label states that "grape alcohol" is used. It is 55% ABV. The licorice would be macerated in or distilled with the grape spirit. I can't say I can taste the grapes, but it is an excellent drink that is pleasing neat, and also with water and ice.
The Ksara arak is a little more bold in taste, with a drier, stronger edge of black licorice. The Ksara label states that it too is made from (selected) grapes, and is triple distilled in pot stills with "green and fresh aniseed", then "matured for two years in clay jars to soften the spirit".
Both are well-made drinks but I think I will continue to save them for use in Sazeracs (I put some in Manhattans too sometimes).
As I say, drunk neat, I prefer the Arak Fakra to the Ksara since the Fakra seems more nuanced. However as always this will be a matter of personal preference and also, since these are often consumed with water and ice, perhaps some consumers would find that the Ksara arak works better taken in this form.
The Sri Lanka arracks IMO do not equal the Lebanese ones in palate, however they add a lot to a glass of creamy porter (per again Michael Jackson's report of local practice) and so I shall save them for that.
I might bring my Arak Fakra to the KBF Gazebo in the fall, since I think some people might like to try it. It can be used too for adding a fillip to the rich beers that are always about, and to supply a shot for a jug of Sazerac cocktail.
I am hinting, in other words, at what my welcoming cocktail will be at the Friday dinner.
Very surprised to see that someone from this forum also has Arak Fakra from Lebanon,even more surprised there is another one too of 53%.Is that one also made by chateaufakra or another distillery?In Holland it is very rare and i got it by coincidence,think it is more for the French or the Lebanese market.
What hidden treasures more you`ve hidden?
The Ksara 53% is made by Chateau Ksara Sal Bekaa, Lebanon. The label refers also to www.ksara.com.lb
The Ontario Liquor Control Board is a very large buyer of alcohol. It likes to buy products which appeal to Toronto's diverse ethnic communities. There are other araks available here, you can check yourself at www.lcbo.on.ca Raki is also available (from Turkey).
Yesterday I had a canned beer from Malta made by Simmonds Farsons, established at a time when U.K. influence was strong there. Micheal Jackson wrote in the 1970's of ales still being made on the island. We get a lager, not an ale, but it was excellent (called Cisk). It tasted somewhat of an ale, not in its aleishness (estery quality) but in its hopping which to my palate had the typical traits of flowery Southern English ale hops. So in a way, Jackson's perceptiveness is still applicable.
The arrack from Sri Lanka I had mentioned I had bought here, too.
Now the question is, why is the bourbon selection so small? :(
Perhaps the ethnic minority of Yankees is just too small to do trouble for:grin: .
Far Asian arak is made of palmwine and shuld there for has abetter purer taste but i never ha dthe opportunity to find out did you?
I never had the palm wine type, no. The coconut style is quite unique I think (Sri Lanka, former Ceylon) but I know there are numerous other drinks styled in a similar way made from different substances. Even around the Mediterranean there is arak made I know from dates, and from other fruits, but the two I mentioned from Lebanon are made from a wine base (grapes). I'll check next time I'm at LCBO to see what else they have currently under the name arak/arrack/raki.
As for bourbon, you may be right about that, but there are not too many Scots (so-identified) here either. I think bourbon just gets lost in the shuffle, people don't know enough about it here, and even though it would sell well, it is just too small a category to be noticed much. What there is seems dominated by Beam Global although WR is available (in 3 bottle formats), WT usually, and recently there was some Bulleit. I have always wondered, too, if, because it is whiskey from North America and Canadian whisky of course is a classic product here, bourbon tends to get shunted aside so as not to shed too much light on a closely competing product. There might be some of this at play, almost unconsciously, but at bottom I think the reason bourbon is so little represented (relatively) is that it is not well understood here.
As for smsw we are well stocked as for bourbon the same story here,Beam,JD and Four Roses are the big brands overhere,jenever is losing its market to vodka quick too,only rum isn`t that populair here yet(i don`t mean the Bacardimix stuff but you already guessed that;) ).The coconutstyle is new to me but perhaps i might know an adress for that.On Sardegna(Sardinia?)Italy they also have a own brand of anisette made of grapebrandy too called ligno verde,its a illegal made drink,very harsh to drink pure,strong anis/liqurice taste,something like its Corsican brother.I thought originally the name arak came from the Arab word araq=juice just to put Allah in a wrong direction.In the former Dutch east Indies they had palmwine they sometimes fortified with liquoriceroot,anis and some other herbs for the colonial Europeans,i only don`t know if it was real palmwine or a brandy.Thought they still use it for the buffalo`s that are racing eachother in some parts of Indonesia.I`ll have a look around some Indonesian shops in the Hague and ask for it next time i`m there.
I have seen in Portugal and Spain anise-based drinks (not absinthes) which probably are similar to some arack, Pernod, ouzo, etc. It seems all around the Mediterranian there are drinks with this keynote taste, and some are now associated with Asian countries through the drinks having been exported there originally I would think. In one of the distilling texts I have from the 1800's, it is said that anise was added to liquors to disguise rough distillation flavors, and that the same applied to juniper. Today, all the producers know how to make or obtain a clean distillate and I would think anise is added simply because people became accustomed to the taste. In the 1800's there was a fashion for arrack punch, and I am thinking now this might be a good drink for the next Gazebo too. To my taste, Pernod, arak and the Spanish and Portuguese anise drinks are quite similar (sometimes showing different levels of sweetness). Absinthes though, usually show flavors over and above those I associate simply with anise, although there are different types of anise to be sure.
I haven't made a thorough study of it, but from what I can tell the term "arrack" (however spelled) doesn't have a very precise meaning except that it is a distilled spirit and flavored, therefore not aged. In Lebanon and vicinity, it is anise-flavored like ouzo or sambuca, though perhaps not sweetened as those are, and the raw material is grapes. Further east the anise goes away and the raw material is more likely to be molasses, sweet sorghum or, in some cases, mares milk or coconut milk. In the early days of the British Raj, arrack--often shortened to just "rack"--was exported back to England along with the punch recipes in which it was usually consumed. The British returned the favor by sending scotch whiskey to India, so that today most Indian-made spirits are called whiskey, and sold with a lot of scottish imagery, even though they are molasses-based and the descendants of Indian arrack.
Tonight I've got some Al Shallal arak in the glass, 50% ABV, from Kfardebian, Lebanon.
I am developing a small arak collection, I have 4 now, all Lebanese. Plus I have two coconut-derived arracks (so-spelled) from Sri Lanka. These however are not flavored with anise or spiced from what I can tell, and probably should be considered apart.
I hope to find an Israeli one soon. A variant called buci from Tunisia is also on the buy list, but that may be harder to find. It is made from a date base, as apparently Egyptian arak is.
I am going to bring a couple of these to Gazebo, Stu will do the same and we'll have a nice tasting. A side benefit for SB: lots of anise to make Sazeracs-on-the-spot with! (PLus SB always shows some interest good-naturedly in different drinks).
I've been doing a bit of reading on arak. The Middle Eastern form has been made for hundreds of years and maybe a millenium. Apparently it had its origins in Christian and Jewish minority cultures, for whom alcohol is not forbidden of course. While considered today primarily (in the Middle East) an Arab drink and the best araks come from Lebanon, where a particular grape is grown that forms the spirit base, increasingly it is consumed in Israel too and the larger Western countries. In Israel Sephardic Jews have a taste for it since they knew it in the Arab countries in which they formerly lived, and it is popular too amongst other groups in the country.
I find this Al Shallal very good. It clouds immediately on contact with ice. The taste is rich, clean, on the dry side, refreshing. The body is soft and inviting. The predominant flavoring is of anise.
I'll post notes over the summer on the others I collect and will make a final cut for Gazebo. In this tasting, I will include Randy Goode's 1970's Pernod (gifted to me), which is an arak-like drink.
I think this is only the second time I have drank arak. The first time was in Montreal at a restaurant called La Sirene (fish, Middle Eastern food, very good).
However, I know the Pernod, absinthe and ouzo-type drinks reasonably well so the taste is not a surprise.
This time, I see that the drink throws a snow-like deposit around the glass. This must be the extract of the anise.
Well, tonight I'm trying Arak Touma earlier mentioned. It's similar to the Al Shallal but not quite the same. Al Shallal has a very faint hint of bluish-green when fully louched. Touma is resolutely white with grayish highlights.
Also, Touma's flavor is more keyed seemingly to the anise element. The drink (the same amount of ice and water was added to each) seems a little firmer, also a little drier, than Al Shallal.
I decided to try the 1970's Pernod mentioned earlier (here's to ya, Randy G.).
It will be interesting to place in the centre of this series of arak tastings, being a similar but not identical drink.
It pours a pleasing yellow-green, probably like some tropical sea in colour. It clouds, as the other two, on impact with ice.
The taste is very good: anise is present but with less impact than the two araks. Also, there are evidently other flavors present: herbal and grassy I'd call them.
In sweetness, they are all about the same, the Pernod is perhaps a tad sweeter than the others.
When the ice settles in though, the drink tastes rather similar to the araks. They are all of a piece, of the same clan.
Pernod is a development of the absinthe made by (what is now) Pernod Ricard before the ban in France.
I happen to have some Pernod Absinthe, the re-created recipe introduced as absinthe has regained popularity and legal status, so this too will be included in this spate of anise drink tastings.
Incidentally this Pernod is from 1975 (the digits 75 are clearly shown on the base to the right and separated from other numbers, as for many whiskey bottles) and is in pristine condition.
I combined the unconsumed portions of the Toula and Pernod and it is the most beautiful acquamarine colour.
The nose is enchanting and speaks of warm Mediterranean climes.
It fills an 8 ounce tumbler. If I had two handles of good Kentucky bourbon I'd make a Sazerac that would rip your socks off.
And I will, at Gazebo upcoming.
We have a new entrant in this pan-Mediterranian tasting of anise drinks (I hope ultimately to expand it to absinthe, ouzo, Sambucca and others, and have already included a pastis (Pernod), but for now will work in the arak area. The common theme is anise or anise-based drinks, so with regret I'll leave the coconut arrack of Sri Lanka and Batavia arrack from Indonesia (made from cane) out of it).
It is Elite Arak, 40% ABV, from Israel.
The label indicates it is made from neutral spirit and aniseed, but the origin of the spirit base is not given (it could be grapes, it could be grain, sugar, I don't know. I think grapes is a likelihood).
It has a pleasant anise odour with overtones of lemon and something earthy. The label states that it has been distilled by the maker since 1824 (J. Gold & Sons, Haifa). It advises to consume the arak by a "crow's kick" which is half arak and half cold water, or neat. This term crow's kick is not known to me and I can't imagine what its origin is. By adding water 1:1, since this arak is at a minimum 10% less alcoholic than the Lebanese ones essayed, the mix with water equates more or less to adding water 2:1 to the others, which seems a standard practice from what I have read.
Taste notes to come later.
I had a sip of the Elite neat. It is good, with a clean hit of anise and a rounded taste. I get additional flavors though in the Lebabon ones which may (I don't know for sure) reflect usage of a less-than-neutral spirit base and aging in clay jars.
I'll try again later with the drinks diluted to the same strength. Since water almost invariably is added to these drinks in their home lands to make a longish drink to accompany food, it seems fairest to assess them that way.
Up until literally a week ago, I found the taste of aniseed in liquor difficult to take. I liked it as a faint accent in a whiskey cocktail, but on its own and forward in the drink it seemed tough again to drink. Fo the same raeson I have never liked black licorice candies or black jelly beans. I have read that many North Americans also find it hard to come to terms with the big jammy-like anise taste.
But after the first couple of glasses (full glasses) of arak, I find I really like it now! It is most odd, but I have acquired the taste and this happened literally overnight.
Tonight I've poured Ksarak arak from Lebanon, 53% abv, and am putting it head to head with Pernod Absinthe, 68% ABV. I added water about 2:1 to each.
Both louched (clouded) on contact with ice, the absinthe less so.
The absinthe is delicious. The anise is certainly present, but in a lesser degree than any of the araks tasted to date. It has a slight bitterness at the end of a creamy mouthful of liquor (the wormwood perhaps). It is greenish in tint, like a swimming pool.
The Ksara is resolutely anise, quite dry but with some sweetness. Perhaps there is a faint taste of earthernware, this arak is aged in amphora-type containers which is no doubt an age-old process.
Both are excellent but different, if I had to attribute the difference to one factor, I'd say the absinthe lowers the licorice level in favor of herbal elements.
Very nice with the sun shining on the white walls around me. I'll step on the balcony and think of the Middle East, where my (Jewish) ancestors came from.
This is an interesting thread to me. I grew up with Arak. My ancestry is from the other side (Lebanese), but my grandparents were Christian Arabs so alcohol was always around family gatherings. I always thought Arak was always distilled grapes and anise. Thanks for the information. I remember from my childhood that at family gatherings, before dinner, the men would sit around and play a form of Whist that was closer to contract bridge than whist played in the military, while the women prepared the feast. They would eat maza (appetizers) and drink Arak while so doing. Sometimes they would drink whisk(e)y but usually Arak. After dinner the host would make mud from ground coffee beans and the men would drink a demitasse or two with a cigar or pipe. Then they might break out the halawa (a sesame candy) and have more Arak with that. Around Easter the women would make kaak, a sweet bread with honey and anise syrup. This would be served instead of halawa. If I get to Memphis before KBF I'll get some halawa for the gazebo (or check the pantry to see if I have some). If not, maybe I can talk Bernadette into making some kaak. No guarantee, the first thing she'll tell me is that it's not Easter. My Mother taught her well.
Thanks Stu. Absinthe is not arak of course but I find it part of the same family (broadly) as is pastis, ouzo, sambucca, and interesting to compare. There are araks made from dates and figs in parts of the Middle East but I've never run into any. There's quite a bit of information online about this.
I'll pursue my tastings here for whatever value they have and please join in Stu or anyone else who has such drinks to try. But we can do the real thing at Gazebo soon and those sweets sound great. I know halava (as we called it) from my youth and it can be delicious, I liked vanilla-flavoured myself.
Bernadette told me we have two unopened containers of halawa. I think she's just trying to get out of making kaak! I usually buy the plain, but if I get to Memphis I'll get a vanilla, and maybe a pistachio for those who like crunchy peanut butter as opposed to smooth.
Another thing just came back to me from my youth. I was visiting my Grandma Freigy in Fort Wayne and I discovered she had a bottle of arak behind the ironing board. I guess it was arak because it tasted like arak, only the best arak I ever had. I was too young to read (told you I started drinking early) so I have no idea what it was. I did recognize that it was written in Arabic (which I can't read anyway) so I may not have been too young to read. After a few days my Aunt Jo caught me and the bottle disappeared. The thing that stands out in my mind was that bottle was clear glass, but the arak was yellow - looked more more like a beer than a whiskey. Could that have been absinthe? Any idea what it might have been? I've never seen a bottle of colored arak since then.
That's very interesting, thanks. Libby tells me she knows where to get good halava in Toronto and I'll bring some too. I like it when it is fresh and moist and not granular and too old, but she said she can find some. It is one of the tastes I recall from Montreal days as a kid, when we used to visit cousins on Sunday (I hope people still do that in North America, in some places anyway).
The halava came out, also honey cake, strudel, roly poly. And there you see the mixed influences of growing up with my background: we had halava which is Middle Eastern originally, strudels and similar East European pastries the recipes for which people brought over from East Europe, and roly polyies which are English. There were other Middle Eastern-originated desserts that we had, Turkish delight I recall and small dough pastries with candied fruit with a rosewater taste. Roly Poly is a simple yellow or white cake with jam spread on it - always raspberry in my experience - and then rolled up into a long roll for slicing.
With that coffee, soft drinks, and sometimes Canadian rye or Scotch was around. My grandfather liked Black and White.
I do have a theory (does Mr. G. ever lack? :)) for the yellow color. Some absinthe is yellow, but I don't think it was that. It was probably true arak made as you said from grape spirit and anise, but I've read (online) that the traditional ones were aged in earthenware amphora-like containers which impart a bronze tint to the spirit. My Ksara states on the label that it is so aged but it appears to be a plain white in color (I'll check again). Maybe it isn't aged long enough to take color, or they use different earthenware now, or the color is filtered out before bottling. Only other thing I can think of is it was from a specific region in Lebanon or elsewhere in the Middle East that might have used a flavoring of some kind. Some of the date and fig-derived ones (these are from Morocco and Tunisia) are flavored. But all arak I've ever seen (admittedly a small sample) is not flavored except with anise. I incline to the theory that it took color from the amphora and that is probably an additional reason it tasted so good!
Tonight after some bourbon (Booker's, Evan Williams Black Label) at a tasting impromptu after work I am sampling some Arak Fakra, 55% ABV, from a concern in Kfardebian, Lebanon. See www.chateaufakra.com
I am taking this one neat (on one large cube), so perhaps the others tasted are at a disadvantage thereby.
There is a milky louche with an inviting nose of anise of course but other elements seem present. I can't say wininess or grapes, but this arak states on the label it is distilled from "grape alcohol". The label claims the arak is made in the old mountain ancestral way.
It is very good: sweet yet with a tang of some kind, more subtle than the Ksara for example. The liquor is full-bodied and brandy-like in a way. There seems a faint earthiness which may denote aging in clay jars.
This one will be one of the cut I bring to Gazebo for the tasting with Stu.
Absinto, 57% ABV, from Caves Neto Costa S.A., Anadia, Portugal. Poured on one rock in a Waterford glass.
Colour: like a green Caribbean sea.
Nose: very light, hints of menthol, faint anise, herbs or grass.
Taste: sweet and rounded, restrained in flavour. Very pleasant but no flavor stands out. Little if any bitterness. Quite removed from the araks I've mentioned. The 1970's pastis I mentioned (Pernod's) also is quite distant, sharing more in common with the araks than this Iberian absinthe.
Aftertaste: very little.
Actually, visions are starting to appear, not phantasmagoric, not poetical/artistic, but just of good times of Gazebos to come...
On retasting I admire the subtlety of this drink. Everything you want in an absinthe is "there" but in a restrained mode. For this style, drinking neat (in small amounts) is the way to go I think, not diluting with water as is the custom.
We move now to the absinthe side of the anise drinks spectrum.
Pernod Absinthe 68% ABV.
Poured a finger in my rounded WR glass, two rocks, fill to three-quarters with spring water.
The color is a louched green, like some tropical seas.
Nose is quite minimal (even before the shock of ice and water).
The taste is very good: anise certainly there but not as prominent as in the Lebanese or Israeli araks. There are herbal and grassy overtones. The drink has a very mild sweetness and I could see that some people would add sugar to increase this element. I like it tel quel, though.
A very even-flavored, pleasant drink with many subtle flavors.
Last night a friend happened to have some Absente (an absinthe substitute) and Ricard, the well-known pastis made by the company which also makes Pernod (and a passel of other drinks around the world including some bourbon).
The Absente was lighter than the other drinks I've mentioned or seemingly so. It had a nice combination of minty and anise notes.
The Ricard seemed similar to Pernod, perhaps a little drier and less intense. It seemed in the bottle to look reddish but when poured I couldn't detect this, however I plan to buy some myself to have another go.
Nice drinks but very much in the range of those discussed earlier, i.e., the araks are the most anise-flavored; the absinthes blend anise, herbal and other notes; and the pastis' are most akin to the absinthes but with less bitterness.
The sample is still quite small so I'll pursue this over the next months with other brands as I buy or get to try them outside the home.
An Egyptian neighbour from me promised to take a bottle of Egyptian arak with him,according to him it is made in Egypt from palmwinebrandy.I`m curious and let you know what it tast like as soon he is back.
Interesting topic, Gary. I bought my first bottle of ouzo (Metaxa) on a whim about 20 years ago. I found that I liked it over ice during the warm months. Ouzo takes my mind to a warm sunny Greek island. Pernod is the only other anise flavored liqueur I have tried. I will now have to try arak. I think I have seen Ksara here in Dallas.
Ksara is excellent, rich and full-flavored, I might bring that one to Gazebo. It can do double duty in that it helps makes a great Sazerac.
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