|Country of origin||West Asian|
|Region of origin||Near East|
|Colour||Transparent to translucent|
|Related products||Rakı, absinthe, ouzo, pastis, sambuca, aragh sagi, soju|
Arak is traditionally made of grapes and aniseed (the seeds of the anise plant); when crushed, their oil provides arak with a slight licorice taste. Dates, figs, and other fruits are sometimes added.
Production and consumption
Arak is a traditional alcoholic beverage of the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean. It is distilled and consumed across a wide area in the Levant, including in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. It does not have a protected designation of origin.
Arak is a stronger flavored liquor, and is usually mixed in proportions of approximately one part arak to two parts water in a traditional Eastern Mediterranean water vessel called an ibrik (Arabic: إبريق ibrīq) from Middle Persian or Parthian *ābrēq. The mixture is then poured into ice-filled cups, usually small, but can also be consumed in regular sized cups. 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 the ouzo effect.
Arak is often called the national drink of Lebanon. Often made from the Marawi and Obaideh grape varieties, a center of production is the Bekaa Valley vineyards, particularly the Kefraya, Ksara, Domaine des Tourelles, and Massaya vineyards. Zahlé, where Arak Zahlawi is produced, is considered a capital of arak. The water used in the production of Arak Zahlawi is traditionally drawn from the Berdawni River.
In Syria, arak is common. Before the outbreak of the Syria Civil War in 2011, production was dominated by two state-run firms, Al-Rayan (based in the Druze city of Sweida) and Al-Mimas (based in a Christian settlement near Homs). Together, the two companies held about 85% of Syria's market share in arak. Since the civil war, however, the companies' profits and the price of arak, has declined, with their combined market share falling to under half. Low-quality counterfeits also proliferated, using pure alcohol (rather than fermented grapes) and an aniseed substitute (rather than aniseed).
Iraq formerly manufactured arak, including in Bashiqa in northern Iraq, but most arak production facilities shut down in the 2010s. Arak is distilled and consumed by Iraq's Yazidi and Christian minorities, although many members of these groups fled after ISIL seized control of large portions of northern Iraq in 2014. Amid a rise in Islamic conservatism, the Iraqi parliament passed a ban on the import, manufacturer, and sale of alcoholic beverages ban in 2016, prompting protests from Iraqi non-Muslims and rights activists. The ban was not enforced until it was officially gazetted in 2023, triggering border crackdowns. The ban is not enforced in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region.
During the age of austerity in the early years of the State of Israel, arak was locally made, with few imports. The core market for arak was among older, working-class Israelis, and the drink was disfavored among younger and modern Israelis. In the first two decades of the 21st century, however, arak had a resurgence of popularity in Israel. Arak also continues to be popular among Moroccan Jews in Israel, some of whom regard arak as having folk medicine properties.
Israeli tax reforms in 2013 substantially increased the alcohol tax, and this led to consolidation of the arak market. The most popular producer is Joseph Gold & Sons, a winery established in 1824 in Haifa by the Gold family, which formerly made vodka in Ukraine before establishing an arak distillery in Israel. The winery, which later moved to Tirat Carmel outside Haifa, produces different arak brands, including Elite Arak, Alouf Arak and Amir Arak. Other major arak producers include Barkan Wine Cellars (which produces Arak Ashkelon) and Kawar Distillery (which produces Arak Kawar, Arak Yuda, and Arak Noah). After the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, some former South Lebanon Army members who settled in Israel began to produce arak using Lebanese (Zahle) methods.
Arak is locally produced by Palestinian Christians. The West Bank city of Ramallah is a center of arak distillation. Imports of Palestinian arak to the U.S. increased after imports of Syrian arak was disrupted by the Syrian civil war.
Outside the Levant
Several arak brands are produced outside of the eastern Mediterranean. The Sudanese araqi is a similar drink. Arak is also produced in north Africa. The Arak Carmel brand is produced in Spain, while the Arak Julenar brand is produced by an Iraqi in Greece.
Arak was once produced in Iran, until it was banned following the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Iranian Armenians locally manufacture black-market arak in Iran, and some foreign brands are also smuggled in the country. A locally made Iranian arak moonshine, aragh sagi, is made from fermented raisins; in 2020, it sold on the black market for about US$10 for 1.5 liters.
Arak is very similar to other anise-based spirits, including the Turkish rakı and the Greek ouzo, the Greek tsikoudia, the Italian sambuca and anisette, the Bulgarian and Macedonian mastika, and the Spanish anis. However, it is unrelated to the similarly named arrack, a sugarcane-based Indonesia liquor.
Manufacturing 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 early 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.
The alcohol collected in the first distillation undergoes a second distillation, 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. The finished product is produced during a final distillation which takes place at the lowest possible temperature. For a quality arak, the finished spirit is then aged in clay amphoras to allow the angel's share to evaporate. The liquid remaining after this step is the most suitable for consumption.
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- Media related to Arak (drink) at Wikimedia Commons