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.