Anise. You either love it or you hate it. I happen to love it in ardent spirits. I’m as happy with Ouzo as I am Sambuca. This summer I’ve had the pleasure of a few nips of home distilled Arak from Lebanon. Simply a stunning distillate; bright, floral, and a very clean 125(?) proof.
Arak is a catch all term in many eastern & South Pacific countries for any spirit. A derivative of Arabic for ‘sweat’ or ‘juice’, Arak in Lebanon, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries is a grape distillate flavored with anise seed. When drinking it is traditionally mixed in a 1:2 ratio of spirit to water and then poured over ice. The extra step of premixing before cooling produces a beautiful louche; if you just add the spirit to ice and then water you get an ugly precipitate that separates out from solution (I know, I did it wrong).
So back to this particular bottling. It came served in a 1 liter plastic Pepsi bottle sealed with masking tape brought over in luggage from Beirut. That alone got my heart rate up in anticipation. The Arak was distilled in a garage in a 10 liter alembic still used by the house wife to ensure that none of her grapes go to waste after harvest and wine making (she also distills an incredible rose water). It is double distilled with anise seed added to the second pass after maceration. Frankly, its one of the best things I’ve drank this year. The heart of the distillate is clean with nothing lingering from the heads or tales as I usually encounter in ‘non taxed’ spirits. The anise itself is deep, so deep it takes on haunting and fleeting notes of geranium, orchid, and lilac that pass in and out of taste threshold.
I live in a city with a rich and developed Lebanese community and our liquor store stocks several Araks. I suppose it’s time to add a couple of bottles to my cabinet and see how they stack up to the home made. I hope I’m not disappointed.