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Thread: Arak/Arrack

  1. #1
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    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.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 05-24-2008 at 14:00.

  2. #2
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    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?
    Eric.
    Netherlands

  3. #3
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    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?

    Gary

  4. #4
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    Perhaps the ethnic minority of Yankees is just too small to do trouble for .
    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?
    Eric.
    Netherlands

  5. #5
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    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.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 05-25-2008 at 15:47.

  6. #6
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    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.
    Eric.
    Netherlands

  7. #7
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    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.

    Gary

  8. #8
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    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.

  9. #9
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    Re: Arak/Arrack

    Well put, Chuck.

    Gary

  10. #10
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    Re: Arak/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.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 06-24-2008 at 17:05.

 

 

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