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Two kinds of Arrack from Sri Lanka
TypeAlcoholic drink

Arrack, sometimes spelt arak,[1] is a distilled alcoholic drink typically produced in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugarcane, and also with grain (e.g. red rice) or fruit depending upon the country of origin. There are two primary styles that are very different[2]: Batavia Arrack is often clear in color but has a flavor profile more similar to dark rum, with a distinctive "funk" or "hogo" imparted to it from fermented red rice. Ceylon Arrack, by contrast, is a more refined and subtle spirit. It has hints of Cognac and rum character and a wealth of delicate floral notes. Both styles are also made "in house" by local citizenry and can be more akin to moonshine in their presentation.

Arrack predates all "New World" spirits, as it is a parent to cachaça (which was, in turn, the parent of rum, rhum agricole, and ron).[3] Genoese merchants made the spirit as a byproduct of their sugar cane production in the Canary Islands. Besides making sugar, they produced arrack instead of importing it for their growing list of customers. Other early arrack was distilled from molasses and water, using dried cakes of red rice and botanicals that contain yeast and other fungi to trigger the fermentation process (this technique can be traced back thousands of years to China and even predates the birth of distillation).[4] It is also claimed to have been distilled in India in 800 BC, but while palm wine and fermented sugar-cane drinks were being made around this time period not all believe that formal distillation was taking place.[5]

Outside Asia, the spirt was a common ingredient in the proliferation of Indian alcoholic punch, and was particularly popular in Holland and Sweden. It had started to be used in the United States prior to prohibition[6], but is now mostly confused with the more common and similar sounding anise-flavored spirit Arak.

Arrack in different countries[edit]


Arrack was banned in the states of Kerala in 1996,[7] and Karnataka on 1 July 2007.[8][9]

Batavian arrack factory "Aparak" in 1948

Indonesia (Batavia-Arrack)[edit]

Within Indonesia itself, the term arak is still widely used to describe arrack. Arak (or rice wine) was a popular alcoholic beverage during the colonial era.[10] It is considered the "rum" of Indonesia because, like rum, it is distilled from sugarcane. It is a pot still distillation. To start the fermentation, local fermented red rice is combined with local yeast to give a unique flavor and smell of the distillate. It is distilled to approx. 70% ABV. Like rum, Batavia-arrack is often a blend of different original parcels.

One of the longest established arack companies in Indonesia is the Batavia Arak Company (Dutch Batavia-Arak Maatschappij), which was already in business by 1872, became a limited liability company in 1901, and was still operating in the early 1950s. The Batavia Arak Company also exported arack to the Netherlands and had an office in Amsterdam. Some of the arrack brand produced by Batavia Arak Company were KWT (produced in the Bandengan (Kampung Baru) area of old Jakarta) and OGL.[10] Still commonly available in Northern Europe and Southern Asia, Batavia Arrack can be difficult to find in the United States. Batavia-Arrack van Oosten is a more recently available brand.[11]

Batavia-Arrack is said to enhance flavor when used as a component in other products, such as pastries (like the Scandinavian Runeberg torte or the Dresdner Stollen), or in the confectionery and flavor industries. It is used in herbal and bitter liqueurs, and as a component in alcoholic punches (such as punsch, regent punch,[12] royal punch,[13] and black tea-port milk punch[14]).

Its use in punch was noted by early American bartender Jerry Thomas: "Most of the arrack imported into this country is distilled from rice, and comes from Batavia. It is but little used in America, except to flavor punch; the taste of it is very agreeable in this mixture. Arrack improves very much with age. It is much used in some parts of India, where it is distilled from toddy, the juice of the cocoanut tree".[15]

In Indonesia, arrack is often created as a form of moonshine. Such illicit production may result in methanol-tainted arrack that can lead to death.[16][17]


Bubblegum-flavoured lambanóg

The Filipino term for wine (and by extension alcoholic beverages in general) is alak, derived from the Arabic word "arrak". The term "arak," though, is specifically used in Ilocano.

Lambanóg is commonly described as coconut wine or coconut vodka. Distilled from the sap of the unopened coconut flower, it is particularly potent, having a typical alcohol content of 80 to 90 proof (40 to 45%) after a single distillation; this may go as high as 166 proof (83%) after the second distillation. As with coconut arrack, the process begins with the sap from the coconut flower. The sap is harvested into bamboo receptacles similar to rubber tapping, then cooked or fermented to produce a coconut toddy called tubà. The tubà, which by itself is also a popular beverage, is further distilled to produce lambanóg.

Until recently, lambanóg was considered a local analogue to moonshine and other home-brewed alcoholic drinks due to the process's long history as a cottage industry. Though usually served pure, it is traditionally flavoured with raisins, but lambanóg has recently been marketed in several flavours such as mango, blueberry, pineapple, bubblegum and cinnamon in an effort to appeal to all age groups.[18]

Quezon province is the major producer of lambanog wine in the Philippines because of the abundance of coconut plantations in the area. The Lambanog originated and first distilled in Tayabas in Quezon, a Spanish soldier named Alandy established the first distilling business, which has come down to the present generation as Mallari Distillery. The three main distilleries in the country are also located in Tayabas City - the Mallari Distillery, the Buncayo Distillery, and the Capistrano Distillery (Vito, 2004).[19]

The Italian explorer, Antonio Pigafetta, stated that the arrack that he drank in Palawan and nearby islands in 1521 was made from distilled rice wine.[20]

2018 lambanog deaths[edit]

On November 29, a number of residents from Calamba, Laguna drank lambanog, and then began to experience symptoms such as stomach cramps, resulting in them being brought to the hospital; they subsequently died thereafter.[21] Other persons who consumed lambanog experienced other symptoms such as nausea, chest pains, and blurry vision.[21]

Meanwhile, another four people, who were tricycle drivers, were reported to have died after they consumed arrack and thirteen others were hospitalized in Quezon City.[22] According to the authorities, the drivers were reportedly drinking at the house of one of the victims, sometime between November 30 to December 2, where they were served six liters of arrack which they bought. Shortly after, they started to experience stomach pains and vomiting. They were brought to the hospital but died shortly thereafter.[22] It was reported that most people who consumed the beverage around this time had managed to maintain their strength.[23]

On December 7, according to the Food and Drug Administration, they found "high levels of methanol" in the beverage.[24] On December 9, the FDA recorded at least 21 persons who died from consuming lambanog.[25] On December 12, the FDA inspectors and the authorities raided the source of the lambanog manufacturer Bossing Tumador Lambanog.[26] Since the deaths relating to lambanog had emerged, many of its sellers were worried about the declination of their income.[27]

Sri Lanka[edit]

"Ceylon Arrack"

Sri Lanka is the largest producer of coconut arrack and up until 1992 the government played a significant role in its production.[28][29]

Other than water, the entire manufacturing process revolves around the fermentation and distillation of a single ingredient, the sap of unopened flowers from a coconut palm (Cocos nucifera).[30] Each morning at dawn, men known as toddy tappers move among the tops of coconut trees using connecting ropes not unlike tightropes. A single tree may contribute up to two litres per day.

Due to its concentrated sugar and yeast content, the captured liquid naturally and immediately ferments into a mildly alcoholic drink called "toddy", tuak, or occasionally "palm wine". Within a few hours after collection, the toddy is poured into large wooden vats, called "wash backs", made from the wood of teak or Berrya cordifolia. The natural fermentation process is allowed to continue in the wash backs until the alcohol content reaches 5-7% and deemed ready for distillation.

Distillation is generally a two-step process involving either pot stills, continuous stills, or a combination of both. The first step results in "low wine", a liquid with an alcohol content between 20 and 40%.[31] The second step results in the final distillate with an alcohol content of 60 to 90%. It is generally distilled to between 33% and 50% alcohol by volume (ABV) or 66 to 100 proof. The entire distillation process is completed within 24 hours. Various blends of coconut arrack diverge in processing, yet the extracted spirit may also be sold raw, repeatedly distilled or filtered, or transferred back into halmilla vats for maturing up to 15 years, depending on flavor, color and fragrance requirements.

Premium blends of arrack add no other ingredients, while the inexpensive and common blends are mixed with neutral spirits before bottling. Most people describe the taste as resembling "…a blend between whiskey and rum", similar, but distinctively different at the same time.

Coconut arrack is traditionally consumed by itself or with ginger beer, a popular soda in Sri Lanka. It also may be mixed in cocktails as a substitute for the required portions of either rum or whiskey. Arrack is often combined with popular mixers such as cola, soda water, and lime juice.

Production types[edit]

According to the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre's 2008 report on alcohol in Sri Lanka, the types of arrack are:[32]

  • Special arrack, which is produced in the highest volume, nearly doubling in production between 2002 and 2007.
  • Molasses arrack is the least-processed kind and considered the common kind.[32] Nevertheless, as a whole, arrack is the most popular local alcoholic beverage consumed in Sri Lanka and produced as a wide variety of brands that fit into the following three categories:
  • Premium aged, after distillation, is aged in halmilla vats for up to 15 years to mature and mellow the raw spirit before blending. Premium brands include Ceylon Arrack, VSOA, VX, Vat9, Old Reserve and Extra Special.
  • Premium clear is generally not aged, but often distilled and/or filtered multiple times to soften its taste. Premium clear brands include Double Distilled and Blue Label.
  • Common is blended with other alcohols produced from molasses or mixed with neutral spirits as filler.


Sri Lanka's largest manufacturers, listed in order based on their 2007 annual production of arrack,[32] are:

  • DCSL (Distilleries Company of Sri Lanka), 37.25 million litres
  • IDL (International Distilleries Ltd), 3.97 million litres
  • Rockland Distilleries (Pvt) Ltd, 2.18 million litres
  • Mendis, 0.86 million litres

Ceylon Arrack, a brand of Sri Lankan coconut arrack, was recently launched in the UK in 2010. It is also available in France and Germany.[33] White Lion VSOA entered the American market soon after.[34]

Coconut arrack for export

St Helena[edit]

Historically Arrack has been a common beverage on the island of St Helena, This is likely due to influences of the East India Company, which controlled St Helena and used it as a halfway point between India and England.


In Sweden and Finland, batavia-arrack has historically been mixed with other ingredients in order to make Swedish punsch (now available in prepackaged bottles). The alcohol content is normally not over 25%, although it has a high sugar content of nearly 30%. The original recipe was a mixture of arrack with water, sugar, lemon, and tea and/or spices (chiefly nutmeg).[35] Today punsch is mostly drunk warm as an accompaniment to yellow split pea soup, although it is also used as a flavouring in several types pastries and sweets as well. The name arrak is still retained for some pastries, for example arraksboll, whereas punsch is used for things like punschrulle.


The word derived from the Arabic word arak (عرق, arq), meaning 'distillate'. In the Middle East and Near East, the term arak is usually used for liquor distilled from grapes and flavored with anise.

Unlike arak, the word arrack has been considered by some experts to be derived from areca nut, a palm seed originating in India from the areca tree and used as the basis for many varieties of arrack. In 1838, Samuel Morewood's work on the histories of liquors was published. On the topic of arrack, he said:

Regardless of the exact origin, arrack has come to symbolize a multitude of largely unrelated, distilled alcohols produced throughout Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. This is largely due to the proliferation of distillation knowledge throughout the Middle East during the 14th century. Each country named its own alcohol by using various Latin alphabet forms of the same word which was synonymous with distillation at the time (arak, araka, araki, ariki, arrack, arack, raki, raque, racque, rac, rak).[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dobbin 1996, p. 54.
  2. ^ "Lost Ingredients: Arrack". Mixology. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  3. ^ "Lost Ingredients: Arrack". Mixology. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Lost Ingredients: Arrack". Mixology. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  5. ^ Broom, Dave (1998). Spirits. Carlton Books. p. 179. ISBN 1 85868 485 4.
  6. ^ Midland Druggist & Pharmaceutical Review. Columbus, OH: Midland Publish Company. Feb 1909. p. 193.
  7. ^ Arrack ban to stay in Kerala
  8. ^ Arrack ban in Karnataka from tomorrow - Economic Times
  9. ^ Siddu wants cheap, safe liquor for poor
  10. ^ a b Merrillees 2015, p. 82.
  11. ^ "Batavia-Arrack van Oosten". Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  12. ^ Grohusko, Jacob (1910). Jack's Manual. NY: McClunn & Co. p. 66.
  13. ^ Mahoney, Charles (1912). Hoffman House Bartenders Guide. Franklin Square, NY: Richard Fox Publishing. p. 180.
  14. ^ "Black Tea-Port Milk Punch". Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  15. ^ Thomas, Jerry (1862). Bartender's Guide. New York: Dic & Fitzgerald. p. 30.
  16. ^ More alcohol deaths in Indonesia, June 2009,
  17. ^ Newcastle nurse poisoned by methanol, October 2011,
  18. ^ Lambanog: a Philippine drink, TED Case Studies #782, 2005
  20. ^ The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898 (Volume XXXIII, 1519–1522)
  21. ^ a b "9 patay matapos uminom ng lambanog; sample nakitaan ng methanol". ABS-CBN News. Retrieved December 7, 2018.
  22. ^ a b "FDA looking into death of 4 tricycle drivers after they drank 'lambanog'". Manila Bulletin.
  23. ^ "2 kritikal, 14 na-ospital matapos umanong malason ng lambanog". ABS-CBN News.
  24. ^ "'High levels of methanol' found in 'lambanog' samples". Manila Bulletin.
  25. ^ "FDA records 21 deaths from lambanog". The Philippine Star.
  26. ^ "FDA, cops raid source of lambanog in series of deaths in Laguna". GMA News.
  27. ^ "Lambanog na sinisisi sa ilang pagkamatay sa Bulacan, susuriin". ABS-CBN News. Sa San Juan, Batangas naman, kung saan ipinagdiriwang ang Lambayok Festival o pista ng lambanog, nangangamba ang ilang gumagawa at nagtitinda ng lambanog sa paghina ng kanilang mga hanapbuhay dahil sa mga kaso ng mga umano ay pagkalason dahil sa lambanog.
  28. ^ "Distilleries Company - 'One of the World's Greatest Privatisation Stories'". The Island. Retrieved 11 October 2015.
  29. ^ SL’s Sin Industry and Sin Tax, W. A. Wijewardena Daily Ft ThinkWorth, Accessed 2015-10-11
  30. ^ Gunawardena, Charles A. (2005). Encyclopedia of Sri Lanka. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. pp. 22–23. ISBN 9781932705485.
  31. ^ "Arrack for Dummy's". Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  32. ^ a b c "The Alcohol and Drug information Centre" (PDF). ALCOHOL INDUSTRY PROFILE 2008: AN INSIGHT TO THE ALCOHOL INDUSTRY IN SRI LANKA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 March 2012. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  33. ^ Ceylon Arrack Bottled in UK Archived March 27, 2010, at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 18 September 2009
  34. ^ "Arrack coming soon to US". Retrieved 17 October 2010.
  35. ^ "Lost Ingredients: Arrack". Mixology. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  36. ^ Morewood, Samuel. A philosophical and statistical history of the inventions and customes of ancient and modern nations in the manufacture and use of inebriating liquors, W. Curry, jun. and company, and W. Carson, 1834, p140.
  37. ^ Lopez 1990, p. 109.

External links[edit]

  • Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Arrack" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 642. This describes different forms of arrack as understood at the time, and cites H. H. Mann, The Analyst (1904).

Cited works[edit]