Arak: The Drink Of Lebanon

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High-Quality Bottled Arak

The Aniseed-Flavored Arak is a Traditional Aperitif in The Middle East

What Is Arak, Anyway? Arak is a colorless, anise-flavored (black liquorice-flavored, for those unfamiliar with the taste of anise) alcoholic Aperitif traditionally imbibed in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Turkey, and Iran. Commonly used in social settings, such as dinner parties, restaurants, and night clubs, and usually accompanied by small appetizers called mezze to offset the alcohol’s potency, “arak” comes the Arabic word ′araq (ﻋﺮﻕ) which literally means “sweat.”

Where Does It Come From? Arak is typically made from grapes grown in Mediterranean climates, though dates, plums, figs, may also be used. After arak grapevines have matured to a golden color – usually in late September or October – the grapes are harvested and stored in barrels for three weeks to ferment. Distillation follows the fermentation process, and varying amounts of aniseed is added (depending on the distillery) at this time to give the spirit its unique flavor. Different types of stills – stainless steel, copper, pot stills, and column stills – can also affect the final taste of the arak, though an authentic copper still with a Moorish shape is believed to give the alcohol its best flavor.

High-quality brands of arak may also age the finished spirit in clay amphoras to allow for evaporation of water, thus yielding the purest form of the Aperitif for consumption. Typical arak usually ranges from between 30% to 60% alcohol by volume (ABV), and can be purchased in the U.S. in Middle Eastern markets and at most large liquor stores.

How Should I Drink It? Traditionally, arak is mixed with a ratio of 1/3 arak to 2/3 water in a Levantine vessel called a barik (in Arabic, barīq ﺑﺮﻳﻖ;), then poured into small, ice-filled cups. Emulsification of the anise oils turns the spirit a milky-white color when mixed with water, earning arak the nickname “the milk of lions” throughout the Middle East.

For more great arak-based recipes, including the “arak mandu” (the poor-man’s margarita) and the “arak attack,” check out Five Arak Cocktail Recipes. And remember, always drink responsibly.