This is the second post in our ‘Man Cave Poison’ series, exploring drinks you wouldn’t typically buy when doing your usual liquor run. Andrew explores Arak, a Middle Eastern spirit.
There’s a certain magic about mixing up a cocktail; in a time when everything around us has sped up, life feels like it moves at the speed of light and information moves somehow faster, the beautiful ritual of a proper drink swirling around a steel shaker at the behest of a mixing spoon seems to slow the world down just enough.
Small rituals are what make the world more interesting, someone once told me, but the large rituals are what dulls the glow and I like to take that comment not only into life but to the bar with me. I’m also the kind of person who loves to make his own food over going out to dinner, much to the chagrin of my wife who loves the adventure of a new restaurant. Anyway, I also love new cultures and the foods that they bring with them. If food is the universal language then drink is the conversation we have when the doors close for the evening.
Do you know what Arak is? Yeah I had no clue when I plopped a bottle on the counter and handed over my slightly hard earned money but I brought a bouncing baby bottle home and did some reading. Arak is the traditional Middle Eastern liquor that is quite often shared with family, friends and guests whenever a special occasion is abound. Made from fermented grapes, dates or other fruits, Arak wash is distilled once through, distilled with aniseed a second time and, depending on the region it comes from, sometimes distilled a third time. The result is a liquor that is a shape-shifter of sorts: shifting names, changing origins but always the same flavor. An anise flavor that isn’t as strong as absinthe but similar, a smoothness that feels like a decent rum and, of course, a ritual for fun.
Arak has a special mixing sequence that is more science steeped in history than folklore. The liquor goes into the glass first, often a small squat glass that would remind anyone of a water glass or even a jelly jar. One third arak is combined with two thirds cool water and then ice is added after the fact. If made in this fashion the naturally clear Arak turns a milky white that is simply magnificent to look at. The oils in the aniseed that is imbued before the second distillation oozes into the liquor and is only soluble with ice, hence how it comes to life once the ice is added. The result is a drink you can sip all day in the sun with a plate of rice, hummus, lamb and a mezze salad.
So, again, please don’t ignore the corner of the liquor store that holds the bottles that you can’t pronounce their names or even read their labels. If you’ve got a couple of bucks extra in your pocket, gamble on some bottled adventure and give a new drink a whirl. You never know what you’ll end up liking.
Images: haaretz.com, hoodline.com