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Arak: Liquid fire


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#31 WhyteKnight

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 03:31 AM

Interesting (sort of) side note: I just found a description in The Household Cyclopedia, ca. 1881, on a beverage called "Arrack."

"Arrack is no other than a spirit produced by distillation from a vegetable juice called toddy, which flows out of the cocoanut tree. The operator provides himself with a parcel of earthen pots, climbs up the trunk of a cocoatree; and when he comes to the boughs, he cuts off one of the small knot or buttons, and applies the mouth of a bottle to the wound, fastening it to the bough with a bandage; in the same manner he cuts off others, and proceeds till the whole number is employed; this done, he leaves them until the next morning, when he takes off the bottles, which are mostly filled, and empties the juice into the proper receptacle. When a sufficient quantity is produced, the whole put together, is left to ferment. When the fermentation is over, and the liquor is a little tart, it is put into the still, and fire being made, the still is suffered to work as long as that which comes has any considerable taste of spirit. The liquor thus procured is the low wise of arrack; and distilled again to separate some of its watery parts, and rectify it to that very weak kind of proof spirit in which state we find it.

Tungusian arrack is a spirituous liquor made by the Tartars of Tungusia, of mare's milk, left to sour, and afterwards distilled twice or thrice between two earthen pots closely stopped, whence the liquor runs through a small wooden pipe."

There are a few other interesting snippets in the text. This particular bit came from a section on distillation. A transcript of the whole Cyclopedia can be found at http://www.mspong.or...edia/index.html

#32 Gwydion Stone

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 09:25 AM

"Oil of Aniseed.
One lb. of the seeds will yield 2 drs. It is congealed, except in warm weather; this oil is carmative and poisonous to pigeons, if rubbed on their bills or head."

Good to know.

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#33 WhyteKnight

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 12:52 PM

For all your pigeon killing needs! :mellow:

#34 Grey Boy

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 07:03 PM

About 12 years ago a restaurant in Salem, MA was closed down
'cuz the cops found the chef in the parking lot chasing pidgins
with a clever.
If only he knew. . .

(not a joke, that really happened,
anyone want some authentic New England Seafood?!?!)
I'm gonna meet pierreverte!

#35 WhyteKnight

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 08:17 PM

Actually pigeon is supposed to be rather tasty. Its related to pheasant, which is quite good, so I suppose its not too far a stretch to consider it.

#36 Grey Boy

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 08:29 PM

Sure, if they're raised for food.
These were common, wild, flying about pidgins.
Gods know what they were carrying.

Diseases I meant, not messages.
I'm gonna meet pierreverte!

#37 Songcatcher

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 07:56 PM

Now thats a damn good read! Ima have to try it now

... From Economist.com

It's notable not only for its history of alcohol distillation, but has great relevance to absinthe. It's a long read (by internet standards) but well worth it.

Posted Image


Arak: Liquid fire
Dec 18th 2003 | BEIRUT

The Arabs discovered how to distill alcohol. They still do it best, say some

WHAT is Islam's greatest gift to the world? The faith of the Koran, Muslims will promptly say—along, some would add, with the Arabic language. Yet it may be that the single most pervasive legacy of Islamic civilisation is not holy scripture, but the rather unholy art of distilling alcohol. Not only were Arabs the first to make spirits. The great trading civilisation of Islam spread the skill across the globe, and in its lands some of the world's finest alcoholic concoctions are still made to this day.

Although the delights of fermented drink were known to cavemen, the natural alcohol content of primitive wines and beers would not top 16%. Yet early China and Egypt both discovered techniques of distillation that might, if applied to such brews, have stiffened their potency. Later, Aristotle described a way of vaporising salt water into fresh, the Romans distilled turpentine from pine oil, and two Alexandrian ladies in the first centuries after Christ, Mary the Jewess and Hypatia, invented devices for separating liquids by heating them. Yet, oddly, nobody in the ancient world at this time seems to have exploited the different boiling-points of alcohol and water to concentrate weak wine into stronger spirits (though some historians assert that the Indians made a fortified beer this way, in or around 800BC).

Alcohol

An explanation may lie in the fact that alcohol, when distilled from fermented drinks, typically contains traces of poisonous methanol. Since methanol vaporises at a lower temperature than drinkable ethanol, the trick is to discard the first part of any distillation. Sadly, many prospective tipplers probably perished before the Arabs sorted out the technique. It is possible, too, that the bubbly science was set back some years by the Roman emperor Diocletian, who decreed the burning of alchemists' manuscripts in 296AD for fear their discoveries would debase his coinage.

The book-burning was not entirely successful. Medieval Arab science took up the work of the Greeks, as the word alchemy itself suggests. (It is the Arabic article al- added to the ancient Greek kimia, which referred to the magical science of the black land of Kemet, which is to say Egypt.) Precisely when and by whom the distillation of alcohol was perfected is not known.

Some suggest that Egyptian monks did the deed some time in the sixth century. Others credit the Armenians. There is no conclusive evidence for either theory. What is known is that by the ninth century Arab authors such as Jaber bin Hayyan, an Iraqi polymath best known for elaborating al-jabr or algebra, were describing "flammable vapours" at the mouths of heated wine vessels.

His contemporary, the legendary poet and lush Abu Nawas (who died in 815AD), was less prim. In one ode, versifying over a night of revelry in a Baghdad tavern, he called for increasingly strong drink, ending the session with a liquor that was "as hot between the ribs as a firebrand". The description clearly hints at something punchier than mere wine.

The etymology of distilling provides further proof of Arab origins. The word alcohol itself derives from the Arabic al-kohl, the antimony eyeliner of that name, being used by Arab alchemists to describe any "purified" substance (thus distinguishing "pure" spirits from khamr, the common word for fermented drinks that comes from khamira, the Arabic for yeast).

Alcohol is made in a still or alembic, which is yet another Arabic alchemical term, appropriated from the Greek ambix, a sort of crook-necked vessel. Such a gadget might be used for making eau de vie or aquavit, names which bear an oddly literal similarity to the maal-hayat or water of life celebrated in drinking scenes from that medieval Arabic classic "The Thousand and One Nights". Hardly surprising, considering that the first evidence of distilling in Europe comes from Sicily in the 11th century, when the island was a possession of the Fatimid caliph of Cairo.

Sweet Sweat of Araby

As monkish translators of Arab science carried such terminology north and west, the art of making "burnt wine" spread across Europe in an intoxicating wave of brandies, grappas, whiskies, schnappses and vodkas. In the meantime, Arab caravans and dhows transported another pungent expression to the east. Arak, or more properly araq, is the Arabic word for sweat or perspiration. This does not refer to the sticky effect of quaffing too much booze. It is a literal description of the process of distillation. When a wine or mash is heated in an alembic, its araq collects inside the still's long spout before dripping out as "raised" alcohol.

In Mongolia arak refers to a stiff drink distilled from fermented mare's milk, and has done since the 14th century, as is known from a Chinese treatise that describes the arrival in the Middle Kingdom of this fiery new potion. To Goans, Sri Lankans and Balinese, the same word describes a fire-water cooked up from the sap of flowering coconuts. Tamils brew it from sugarcane, Indonesians from rice wine, thirsty Iranians from anything they can lay hands on, and get away with.

The national drinks of Turkey, Albania and Bulgaria are all known as raki. The Sudanese call their potent version aragi and, despite government-enforced religious strictures, bubble it up in home stills out of date wine or sorghum mash. In the outskirts of Mecca, Saudis secretly brew an even deadlier drink of the same name—but this home-made hooch is still a safer tipple than the methanol-laced after-shave that killed 11 desperate revellers in the holy city last year.


Arak? No phobia

For most Arabs today, arak has come to refer specifically to the aniseed-infused, wine-based liquor that is manufactured all over the Arab east, from Baghdad to Beirut. Yet it is further testimony to Arab influence that the taste for anise spirits extends across the Mediterranean and beyond. The raki that Turks call "lion's milk" is close to the Arab original. Greek ouzo, and its stronger cousins tsikoudia and tsipouro, are aniseed araks, sometimes elaborated with mastic and other herbs.

Posted Image
The arak of choice—for travellers, at least


Italy's sambuca is a sweeter version, made from witch elder and liquorice, which is drunk neat as a liqueur, but the more local mistra of the Marche region is straightforward arak, often drunk, like the original, diluted with water. The Spanish have exported their taste for such liqueurs as ojen and anisado to Latin America, where they appear in forms such as Colombia's robust aguardiente anisado.

France, of course, has its passion for pastis. Others may find the stuff syrupy and cloying, but the French manage to swallow an astounding 75m litres a year.

Understandably, those not familiar with Levantine arak tend to assume it is much like pastis. But connoisseurs find little resemblance, beyond the fact that both are strong, taste of anise and cloud mysteriously when water is added. (The clouding is caused by emulsification of the anise oils suspended in alcohol.) Pastis is sugared, and flavoured with a range of herbs, including liquorice and star anise imported from Indochina. Its base alcohol is of the cheap variety, typically distilled from sugarbeet. It is drunk, copiously, as an afternoon aperitif.

A proper arak, by contrast, has only two ingredients, grapes and the native aniseed of the Mediterranean. It is drunk not before or after meals, but with them. The uninitiated may flinch at the notion of washing down food with a pungent spirit. But dilution with two parts of water renders arak only slightly more intoxicating than a strong wine. And because arak clears the palate more efficiently than wine, it makes the perfect accompaniment to a Middle Eastern mezze, the array of small, tasty morsels that typically includes such contrasting flavours as bitter olives, fresh almonds, spring onions, goat's cheese, raw minced lamb, and chicken livers stewed in pomegranate juice.

Syrians, Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Iraqis—at least until some Shia fanatics trashed Baghdad's distilleries last May—have long happily quaffed their own araks. But most would concede that the best of the lot is Lebanese. Arak is not just Lebanon's national drink. For many it is a passion, to the point that most of the arak consumed in the country is not factory-produced, but home-distilled. The residents of one typical little Maronite village in the mountainous Kesrouan region, for instance, reckon at least ten families there run their own stills.

Some home-brewers cheat, as do the makers of Lebanon's cheaper commercial brands, by buying industrially produced ethanol and flavouring it with anise extract. The more conscientious follow traditional methods to the last detail. Elias Fadel distils just 1,000 bottles a year for the exclusive use of his family's restaurant, Fadel, which is set on a pine-forested ridge above the town of Bikfaya. The effort is costly in time and money, but the result, he says with a gleam in his eye, is worth it.

Every September, Mr Fadel buys ten tonnes of obeidi grapes, a native Lebanese variety that is said to be an ancestor of chardonnay. Gently crushed, the grapes are left to ferment for three weeks in barrels in the restaurant's basement. The fresh wine is then transferred to a copper still. This contraption, hand-fashioned by Muslim coppersmiths in the bazaars of Tripoli, looks unchanged from medieval models.

The first distillation, with the toxic tops and tails removed, produces a highly concentrated spirit. With fresh water having again reduced the alcohol level, precise portions of unwashed, uncrushed anise from Hineh, a village on the Syrian slopes of Mount Hermon, are steeped in the liquor before a second round in the still.

Give it the old 53rd degree

Unlike the makers of common spirits such as whiskey, Mr Fadel does not stop at a second distillation. He proceeds to a third and even a fourth, topping up the arak with water each time before bringing it down to 53 degrees of alcohol, Lebanon's government-mandated standard. The crystal clear liquid is then matured in clay jars for at least a year. The large jars, which look just like Roman amphoras, are slightly porous. Mr Fadel reckons that with the multiple reduction of his distilling, followed by the loss of up to 15% of the arak from evaporation, his cost per bottle is about $10, not including his own labour.

This explains why Lebanon's better commercial araks are as expensive as imported spirits. Competition, along with changes in the Lebanese way of life that have made Beirut's long, arak-soaked lunches a rarer treat, has certainly cut into sales. (In Greece, similarly, whisky now outsells ouzo.) Yet recent years have seen a return of interest to the national drink. Whereas long-established brands, such as Ksara and Fakhra, now tout their adherence to traditional arak-making methods, newcomers have added a touch of glamour to the high end of the business.

One such is El Massaya, a fast-growing winery founded by two brothers who returned to the militia-infested Bekaa valley after sitting out Lebanon's 1975-89 civil war in the West. "The local mayor told my father, your son has gone berserk, wanting to make alcohol here," says Sami Ghosn. "I had to drive around with a Kalashnikov in the car." Convinced there was a niche for ultra-traditional arak, the Ghosn brothers insisted on using vine-wood fires to heat their double-headed still, and persuaded traditional potters to come out of retirement to make their first ageing jars. El Massaya's cellars now bulge with hundreds of arak-filled amphoras. In duty-free shops across the region, its dusky, blue-tinted bottles are the arak of choice. Sooner or later, Mr Ghosn believes, the rest of the world will catch on.


The room it smelled heavy of drinkin',  

and the sad silent song, made the hour twice as long,

as I waited for that sun to go sinkin'.


#38 Songcatcher

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 07:57 PM

Fubar on my part. :fork:

Thank you Ambear.

Edited by Songcatcher, 15 April 2012 - 08:14 PM.

The room it smelled heavy of drinkin',  

and the sad silent song, made the hour twice as long,

as I waited for that sun to go sinkin'.


#39 Ambear

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 07:58 PM

:laugh: Of all the things to double post...
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#40 Songcatcher

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Posted 15 April 2012 - 08:02 PM

:laugh: I know right? But I thought it deserved it. A very interesting article.

Oh hell. It did double post! Damn!

Edited by Songcatcher, 15 April 2012 - 08:03 PM.

The room it smelled heavy of drinkin',  

and the sad silent song, made the hour twice as long,

as I waited for that sun to go sinkin'.


#41 Absomphe

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Posted 16 April 2012 - 03:58 AM

:laugh: Of all the things to double post...


Well, you know what they say...reading is fundamental. :)

Yes, I'm Krinkles the Clown on an absinthe a beer bender.

You got a problem with that?



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