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Arak, or araq, is an Levantine alcoholic spirit (~40–63% Alc. Vol./~80–126 proof) from the anis drinks family. It is a clear, colorless, unsweetened anise-flavored distilled alcoholic drink (also labeled as an Apéritif). Arak was first made in Lebanon (allegedly in Zahle), to now become the traditional alcoholic beverage in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Israel. and Iran.
The word arak comes from Arabic ′araq ﻋﺮﻕ, meaning "sweat", its pronunciation varies depending on local varieties of Arabic: /ʕaraʔ, ʕaraɡ/. Arak is not to be confused with the similarly named liquor, arrack (which in some cases, such as in Indonesia—especially Bali, also goes by the name arak). Another similarly sounding word is aragh, which in Armenia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia is the colloquial name of vodka, and not an aniseed-flavored drink. Raki,Mastika and ouzo are aniseed-flavored alcoholic drinks, related to arak, popular in Turkey,Macedonia and Cyprus, and Greece, respectively.
Arak is usually mixed in approximately 1/3 arak and 2/3 water in a traditional Levantine water vessel called barik, Arabic barīq ﺑﺮﻳﻖ; then the mixture is poured in small, ice-filled cups, as in the picture. This dilution causes the clear liquor to turn a translucent milky-white color; this is because anethole, the essential oil of anise, is soluble in alcohol but not in water. This results in an emulsion, whose fine droplets scatter the light and turn the liquid translucent, a phenomenon known as louching. Arak is commonly served with mezza, which could include dozens of small traditional dishes. Most arak drinkers prefer to consume it this way, rather than alone. It is also well consumed with barbecues, along with garlic sauce.
If ice is added after pouring in the cup, it results in the formation of an aesthetically unpleasant layer on the surface of the drink, because the ice causes the oils to solidify out in the arak. If water is added first, the ethanol causes the fat to emulsify, leading to the characteristic milky color. To avoid the precipitation of the anise (instead of emulsion), drinkers prefer not to reuse an arak-filled glass. In restaurants, when a bottle of arak is ordered, the waiter will usually bring a number of glasses along with it for this reason.
The most commonly known Arak brands are:
Distillation begins with the vineyards, and quality grapevines are the key to making good arak. The vines should be very mature and usually of a golden color. Instead of being irrigated, the vineyards are left to the care of the Mediterranean climate and make use of the natural rain and sun. The grapes, which are harvested in late September and October, are crushed and put in barrels together with the juice (in Arabic El romeli) and left to ferment for three weeks. Occasionally the whole mix is stirred to release the CO2.
Numerous stills exist including stainless steel or copper, pot and column stills that will affect the final taste and specificity of the arak. The authentic copper with a Moorish shape are the most searched after.
The finished product is made during the second distillation. The alcohol collected in the first distillation is distilled again but this time it is mixed with aniseed. The ratio of alcohol to aniseed may vary and it is one of the major factors in the quality of the final product. Another distillation takes place, usually on the lowest possible temperature.
For a quality arak, the finished spirit is aged in clay amphoras to allow the angel's share to evaporate and thus the remaining liquid is the most suitable for consumption. The aging process is around twelve months at El Massaya that owns the largest aging capacity in Lebanon.
Numerous varieties of arak are popular in all the countries bordering the Mediterranean. In the Levant (Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Israel) it is distilled from fermented grape juice or, at times, sugar, and is considered by the inhabitants to be greatly superior to similar hard liquors in other countries. Other similar drinks are the arak of Iraq, made from fermented date juice, and the zibib of Egypt, a peasant-made drink. The same spirit is called Ouzo in Greece, Mastika in Republic of Macedonia and Bulgaria and Rakı in Turkey; they are made from a variety of products like grain, molasses, plums, figs and potatoes. An Iranian variant called Aragh is produced without anise, and has a higher alcohol content than other varieties.
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