Arak (or Araq) is a group of alcoholic drinks (40-60% ABV) that are anise infused distillates. Most commonly it has yellow, gold, white or clear color.
arak is widespread across the Middle East, Central Asia, and Balkans. Its taste and technology are reminiscent of Greek vodka Ouzo, Bulgarian Mastika, Italian sambuca, and Turkish Rakia.
The name arak comes from Arabic araq, meaning “perspiration.” This drink was given such name because of the wash distillation process, during which the obtained distillate drips into the container along the elongated nozzle.
arak was invented about 300 years ago in the East. The exact place of origin is disputed to this day. According to one of the opinions, it was first made in Iraq, and after that merchants spread it around the globe. The other version has it that this drink was brought to invaded lands by Mongolian warriors during the Genghis Khan era.
It is believed that if drunk moderately (up to 30 ml a day) arak can be useful in digestion problems, stomachache, upper respiratory tract disease, and male reproductive system. In Eastern medicine, this drink is used to reinforce the immune system, improve the blood flow, and rejuvenate the skin. Due to a high content of anise arak is harmful for people with chronicle stomach, colon, and heart-vascular system.
Technology. The base alcohol depends on the manufacturing region. In Mongolia, it’s Kumis (fermented mare’s milk distilled into moonshine and then infused with anise). In South-East Asia, arak is made from coconut palm oil, rice, sugar cane plant, date, and fig. In Turkey and Lebanon, the distillate is made from drained grapes left after wine production. In the Balkans, arak is made from plums and other fruits.
After raw materials cease fermenting they are distilled three times (that’s why technically arak is not vodka, it’s something closer to moonshine). After that, the drink is infused with anise in oak barrels or long-neck bottles. arak can also contain other ingredients including herbs and plant seeds, honey and spices. Each region has its own twist on this drink.
Most countries have no full-scale production of arak
To prepare homemade arak you can use moonshine, vodka or ethanol. The result is no different from what you can find in stores.
How to Drink arak
In the East, it is customary to dilute arak with flat cold water in a 1:2 ratio (one part tincture and two parts water). Anise essential oils and water reaction turn the drink white. That’s why in the Arab world this drink is often called “lion milk”. Some producers sell prediluted arak, which is white from the get-go.
A diluted and neat arak
Arak should be drunk with meals and chased with a large amount of hot spicy dishes of Middle Eastern cuisine. In some countries, it is customary to serve nuts and fruits as chasers or drink coffee with a drop of arak.
Any unprepared tourist that is accustomed to European alcohol traditions might be turned off by the strong anise scent of this milky 40 proof drink. That’s completely normal.
P.S. In most regions arak is made at home or in small distilleries, and its content of aldehydes and fusel oils leaves much to be desired. Therefore, it’s better to drink it very moderately.