The Arak Renaissance: From traditional sip to cocktail star
The Roots of Arak
Arak is more than just a spirit; it’s a historical journey into the art of distillation. The practice of distillation traces its origins to Northern Iran, and the term “arak” itself comes from the Arabic word for “blessed.” Chris Hassaan Francke, the owner of The Green Zone, a Middle Eastern cocktail bar in Washington, DC, enlightens us on the etymology.
The Misunderstanding: More Than Just Anise
For many, arak is often relegated to the category of anise-flavored spirits, consumed only as a shot or digestif. However, Francke argues that arak offers a complex flavor profile that can enhance your drinking experience.
The Global Influence: Anise Across Borders
Anise-flavored spirits have found their way into various cultures, from Southeast Asia to Europe. Whether it’s raki in Turkey, ouzo in Greece, or pastis in France, each bottle of arak or its variants tells a unique story.
James Roe, the lead bartender at Callie, a Middle Eastern restaurant in San Diego, emphasizes the rich culture and history associated with arak.
Understanding Arak: A Flavor Spectrum
Arak is not a one-size-fits-all spirit. Francke mentions that the flavor profiles can range from fresh and bright to earthy and vegetal. For cocktails, he recommends Golden Ramallah from Palestine for its friendly price and prominent anise flavor.
Another notable mention is Arak Brun, which offers a fresh and vegetal taste.
Classic Consumption: The Art of Sipping
Arak is traditionally consumed with water, either in a one-to-one ratio or two parts water to one part arak. This dilution results in a cloudy appearance known as a “louche,” a characteristic shared with other anise-flavored spirits like absinthe.
Mixing it Up: Arak in Cocktails
Brian Levine, the manager at Laser Wolf, an Israeli restaurant, serves arak in their Salty Lion cocktail, which includes gin, grapefruit, mint, and salt. Francke finds that arak shines in a Middle Eastern Zombie, replacing Angostura bitters.
He also mentions that coconut water pairs astonishingly well with arak.
Balance is Key: Less is More
Roe advises treating arak like absinthe: a little goes a long way. He suggests that warm spices, fruits, and other intense ingredients can balance well with arak’s strong flavors.
Conclusion: The Versatility of Arak
Arak is a versatile spirit that can be enjoyed in various forms, from sipping it traditionally to incorporating it into modern cocktails. Its rich history and complex flavor profile make it a must-try for any spirit enthusiast.