Arak with water and ice
|Country of origin||Levant|
|Region of origin||Eastern Mediterranean|
|Alcohol by volume||40%–63%|
up to 95% if homemade moonshine
190 if homemade (Lebanese-style)
|Colour||transparent to translucent|
|Related products||Rakı, absinthe, ouzo, pastis, sambuca, aragh sagi|
Its pronunciation varies depending on local varieties of Arabic: [ʕaˈraʔ], [ʕaˈraɡ]. 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 similar-sounding word is aragh, which in Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia is the colloquial name of vodka, and not an aniseed-flavored drink. Rakı, mastika, and ouzo are aniseed-flavored alcoholic drinks, related to arak, popular in Turkey, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Greece respectively.
Arak is a stronger flavored liquor, and is usually mixed in proportions of approximately one part arak to two parts water in a traditional Eastern Mediterranean water vessel called an ibrik (Arabic: ibrīq إبريق). The mixture is then poured into ice-filled cups, usually small, but can be consumed in regular sized cups too. This dilution causes the clear liquor to turn a translucent milky-white color; 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 commonly served with mezza, which may include dozens of small traditional dishes. In general, arak drinkers prefer to consume it this way, rather than alone. It is also consumed with raw meat dishes or barbecues, along with dishes flavored with toum (garlic sauce).
If ice is added to the drinking vessel before the water, the result is the formation of an aesthetically unpleasant layer on the surface of the drink, because the ice causes the oils to solidify. If water is added first, the ethanol causes the fat to emulsify, leading to the characteristic milky color. To avoid the precipitation of the anise (instead of an emulsion), drinkers prefer not to reuse a glass which has contained arak. In restaurants, when a bottle of arak is ordered, the waiter will usually bring a number of glasses for each drinker along with it for this reason.
Manufacturing 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 color. 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.
Numerous types of stills exist, most usually made of stainless steel or copper. Pot and column stills are two types; which will affect the final taste and specificity of the arak. The authentic copper stills with a Moorish shape are the most sought after.
The alcohol collected in the first distillation undergoes a second distillation, but this time it is mixed with aniseed. The ratio of alcohol to aniseed may vary and it is one of the major factors in the quality of the final product. The finished product is produced during a final distillation which takes place at the lowest possible temperature. For a quality arak, the finished spirit is then aged in clay amphoras to allow the angel's share to evaporate. The remaining liquid after this step is the most suitable for consumption.
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