What Is Arak?

Production, Types, and Recipes

Close-up of Arak bottle

Hassan Merheb / EyeEm / Getty Images

Arak (sometimes spelled "araq" from the Arabic), is a distilled alcoholic drink favored in the Middle East. Commonly served in social settings and gatherings, the drink is famous for its potency and for the translucent milky-white color it turns when water is added to it. Arak has a particularly high alcohol content, so water and ice are almost always added to dilute it. The strength of the drink was responsible for its nickname “the milk of lions” in the Middle East.

Fast Facts

  • Ingredients: Grapes and Aniseed
  • Proof: 80–126
  • ABV: 40–63%
  • Calories in a Shot: 95
  • Origin: The Mediterranean and the Middle East
  • Taste: Anise or Licorice
  • Aged: 3 weeks to 1 year
  • Serve: Water and ice
Illustration with facts about arak
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Arak vs. Other Anise Liquors

There is a large family of alcohol beverages that is comprised of anise-based drinks. They all have a strong alcohol flavor, a very present anise taste, and they crystallize or change color when mixed with other liquids. Aquavit, anisette, absinthe, ouzo, pastis, raki, and sambuca are just some of the anise-flavored alcohols from around the world. Most of these alcohols actually have a very similar taste; the major difference lies in the region they are produced and consumed.

What Is Arak Made From?

Arak is typically made from two main ingredients: grapes and aniseed which are the seeds of the anise plant. They produce a licorice taste when crushed and that is the characteristic flavor of this alcohol. Depending on the region where it is made, some Arak variations also contain dates, sugar, plums, figs, and molasses. The aniseed is added to the distilled alcohol during the second of three distillation processes. The ratio of aniseed to alcohol can vary which results in different qualities of arak, but the strength of the drink usually falls between 40% and 60%.

What Does Arak Taste Like?

Arak has a strong anise or licorice flavor. Depending on the brand and production details, the taste can range from herbal and grassy to fruity and anise-flavored. Arak is the strongest of the anise-flavored spirits and has no added sugar.

Types

The different types of arak are based on the stills used to produce it. There are stainless steel and copper stills in different shapes. Copper stills with a Moorish shape are the most sought after and produce the most expensive type of arak. Additionally, when other types of fruit are added to the production, different flavors and types of arak are produced. The anise flavor is usually still so strong that it can be difficult to identify the fruit flavors.

How to Drink Arak

Arak is most commonly served in social settings or gatherings, such as dinner parties, restaurants and night clubs. Traditionally, the drink is served with mezze, or small bits of food, which the guests consume to help deal with the potency of the alcohol. Arak goes hand in hand with these mini appetizer meals so so well that in the case of a dinner party or restaurant, the main dish is often hardly touched.

It is not only what the drink is served with so much as it is how it is served. While water and ice are normally added, the ice should actually never be added to the alcohol but, rather, the alcohol to the ice. The reason for the unusual pouring distinction is that if ice is added after, it causes an unpleasant film to produce on the top of the liquid. It's caused by the oils in the anise solidifying from the temperature of the ice and creating a film.

Adding water turns the drink to its characteristic milky color and also inhibits the film effects of the ice alone. Using multiple glasses when drinking arak is also common, due to the effects of mixing with water and ice. Because the milky color and lack of ice reaction are considered so important, Middle Eastern restaurants will usually provide several glasses for their customers when serving arak. When creating cocktails or mixed drinks with Arak, it's typical to use citrus such as lemon or orange since they go well with the natural anise flavor of the spirit.

Cocktail Recipes

Since arak is usually enjoyed only with ice or water, there are not many recipes for cocktails. If you like the taste, try these drinks with similar flavor profiles:

Popular Brands

Some of the more popular brands of arak producers include:

  • El Massaya
  • Ksarak
  • Zumot Distilleries

Where to Buy Arak

Arak can be purchased in the United States in many Middle Eastern markets. In addition, it may also be found at local liquor stores in neighborhoods with a high concentration of people with Middle Eastern descent.