What Is Arak? (The 3 Different Types Explained)

You may have heard of this exotic alcoholic drink stemming from Central and Eastern countries?

Arak, prounounced ‘a-rack’ is made from various tropical grains or berries which give it its unique flavor and aromas, and it’s readily available on street at markets in somewhat of a legal grey area.

But, with different types accessible, it can be confusing to know which are good and bad, because Arak does have a reputation for being manufactured by unethical distillers. So, if you’ve wanted to know about the different types worth getting your hands on and whether it’s safe or not, carry on reading to find out. 

What Is Arak?

Arak is an alcoholic spirit produced in Eastern countries and the eastern Mediterranean. There a 3 main differnt types.

It’s distilled from the sap of coconut palms, grapes, or rice. The alcohol is often served on special occasions, and depending on the country of origin and types of grains used, it’s enjoyed with water and ice or mixed with other drinks. There are various types of arak produced in different parts of the world. Here’s an explanation of the main types of Arak, how they’re produced, and their uses.

What Is Arak In Lebanon And The Middle East?

In the middle East, arak, also called araq, is distilled from grapes and flavored with aniseed (seeds of the anise plant). The aniseed is responsible for the licorice flavors and aromas you get from the drink. Because of the seed’s high oil content, the spirit undergoes the louche effect. Louching is when alcohol turns milky white when water gets added to it. Because of this color change, it’s famously called Lion’s milk. The spirit is unsweetened and has up to 63% ABV (80-126 proof). 

How Is It Made?

Arak is made by harvesting the finest grapes with a high sugar content. Following that is an elegant process that involves adding seeds during the last round of distillation. Here’s an outline of the process.

  • The grapes are finely crushed and poured into a bucket together with their juices. 
  • The wild yeast on the skin of the grapes breaks down the sugars and allows the grapes to turn into alcohol. The fermentation process takes up to a week. 
  • After a week, the juice gets separated from the skin using a grape press. 
  • The juice gets poured into a clean bucket and left to ferment for up to three weeks. 
  • When the liquid stops releasing CO2, it’s ready for distillation. 
  • The wash undergoes three rounds of distillation. The first distillation is used to collect the crude spirit using a pot still. 
  • When performing the second round of distillation, the alcohol is watered down to 30% ABV. The distiller makes cuts, and the hearts are added back into the still. 
  • The distiller adds crushed aniseeds and the spirit is distilled a final time. 
  • The final product is aged in vessels and the aging duration is based on the climate of the region. In a relatively hot climate, the spirits age in a short period. 
  • The spirit is tasted occasionally to assess whether or not it’s ready to be bottled. 
  • When ready, arak is diluted to 53% ABV, bottled, and sealed in glass jars.

Uses

The Middle East and Lebanon are known for their rich food, so for this reason, arak is often paired with their cuisine. Arak is not only enjoyed around family dinners, but it’s also used as a digestif and it’s believed to treat various ailments.

How Much Does It Cost?

The cost of arak ranges from USD $16.95, with a premium bottle going at USD $412.95.

Is It Safe?

The spirit is safe to consume, provided you dilute it with water and ice, as intended to be enjoyed the traditional way.

The rigorous 3 stage distillation process removes most methanol and other impurities.p

What Is Arak In India And Sri Lanka?

Arak, referred to as Arrack in India and Sri Lanka, is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the sap of coconut flowers. It resembles the taste of whiskey and rum, but it’s more refined and subtle, with delicate floral notes. 

How Is It Made?

Arrack is made by fermenting and distilling the sap of coconut palm flowers. This is a very intense task for the manufacturers because they have to climb trees up to 60 feet long to harvest the crop. Here’s an overview of how arrack is produced. 

  • The flowers are cracked open, and the liquid gets mixed with yeast. The crop is highly concentrated with sugar, so it ferments rapidly into a mildly alcoholic drink called toddy or palm wine. 
  • The liquid is poured into wooden bags called washbacks made from teak wood. Fermentation is allowed to continue until the alcohol content of the ferment reaches 5-7%, which means it’s now ready for distillation. 
  • Distillation is a two-step process that involves a pot still, continuous still, or sometimes a combination of both. The first distillation involves the collection of low wines and the second distillation results in the alcohol content reaching up to 90% ABV. 
  • The alcohol is then proofed down to between 33% and 50%. Distillation generally takes up to 24 hours. The distillate can either be bottled and sold raw, repeatedly distilled, or aged in washbacks for up to 15 years, depending on the desired aroma, flavor, and color. 

Uses

Arrack can be consumed straight or mixed with ginger beer, cola, soda water, or lime juice. It can be used as a substitute for whiskey or rum when making cocktails.

How Much Does It Cost?

The average price of arak is LKR 900.00 ($2.40) in Sri Lanka or INR 900 ($11) in India.

Is It safe?

Arrack is safe to drink if it’s manufactured by a registered distiller. Spirits manufactured by a registered distiller are produced in line with the government’s health and safety regulations to ensure good quality spirit gets sold to the public.

What Is Arak In Bali And Indonesia?

Arrack is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice or coconut palm sap called tuak. The spirit has an alcohol by volume of up to 60% and is known for its bitter and vile taste. But when mixed with cola or other mixers, it blends so well you almost forget about its grim flavor.

How Is It Made?

Arrack is made using the sap of a coconut tree called tuak. Below is a brief explanation of the production process. 

  • The tuak is collected and poured into a large bucket with dried coconut husks added to it. 
  • For distillation to happen, the distillers should collect up to 90 liters of the sap, which takes approximately four days to collect. 
  • Once all required liters are collected, the distillation process begins.
  • Distillation is done in a traditional way which involves using a distillation vessel or pot. The vessels are made from a coconut tree stump. 
  • The tuak is poured into the stump, and the pot is heated over an open fire. 
  • To seal the pot’s lid, a paste is made using mulched down taro leaves. The paste is applied to the lid, and the vessel is left to heat up for a few hours. 
  • After a couple of hours, the vapors are cooled in a neighboring water tank which acts as a condenser. 
  • The collected distillate is diluted to 20% ABV.

Uses

Arrack remains the alcohol of choice for social gatherings, and it’s used to create medicinal drinks and for religious offerings. It blends well with other drinks, so it’s ideal when making cocktails.

How Much Does It Cost?

On average, a liter of Arak is available for Rp 50 000 ($3). 

Is It safe?

Not all bottles of arak sold in Indonesia and Bali are safe to drink, especially those manufactured by home-distillers. There have been reported cases of people consuming methanol-laced cocktails. The methanol caused blindness and death. So, if you’re eager to try a bottle of Balinese or Indonesian arak, make sure it’s a brand from a reputable supplier. 

Conclusion

Arak goes by many names, but a single commonality amongst them is that they are unique to their country of origin. The spirit has gained a reputation for being dangerous, but you can consume good quality brands with no side effects. It’s a reasonably priced drink if you want to try a spirit different from what you’re used to. From pungent to delicately floral and fresh licorice-flavored spirits, arak is crafted to suit the palates of many spirit drinkers. 

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