Danger! Spirits Geekery Ahead!
There are at least three different spirits that share a similarly spelled name, Ar(r)a(c)k.
The reason for this is that the Arabic word for something that means, more or less, “booze,” sounds like Arak. Well, actually, according to Wikipedia, it means sweat or juice, and seems to refer to way the droplets of alcohol collect and drip from a still.
The first, and likely most common, of these you’ll run across is usually called Arak. It comes from Lebanon and is a distilled spirit flavored with Anise (a.k.a. Pimpinella anisum). It is a fine and historic liquor in the continuum of anise flavored Mediterranean liquors including, moving Westward, Greek Ouzo, Italian Sambuca, French Anisette, Absinthe, Spanish Anis, and Portuguese Anis Escharchado. Lebenese Arak is traditionally made on a wine base, so is a flavored brandy. Post distillation it is often aged for a period in clay jars, mellowing it a bit. Many Absinthe fanciers feel, in the absence of real Absinthe, because it is often only lightly sweetened, Lebanese Arak it is the best substitute. In Lebanon it usually drunk, diluted with 3 or 4 parts water, to accompany a celebration or party. Some good brands are Razzouk and Sannine.
The second type of Arrack, which you are actually quite unlikely to run across, is Sri Lankan Arrack. It is also sometimes called “Palm Brandy”. It is made by hacking off the blossom bud of a coconut palm tree, and then collecting the syrup which accumulates there. Interestingly, this substance spontaneously ferments extremely quickly, becoming palm wine. It can pretty much be distilled the moment after it is tapped to produce Arrack. As a note, in Sri Lanka the term “Arrack” doesn’t always refer to Coco Palm Arrack. It can be used to refer to pretty much any old home distilled moonshine-like substance. Darcy has some good tasting notes regarding the flavor of Sri Lankan Coco Palm Arrack in his article. It tastes a bit like a cross between rum and whiskey, with some other odd flavors hanging around.
The third type of Arrack is Batavia Arrack. This is made in Indonesia. The base is sugar cane, like rum, but the fermentation is jump started with the addition of fermented red rice. The importance of the fermented red rice in the flavor of the final product cannot be understated. It gives it an unusual taste that initially often puts people off. However, in small doses, it’s an amazing flavor enhancer and has a character that seems to directly appeal to some portion of the brain. In fact for the last 30-40 years Batavia Arrack’s primary use has been in the Chocolate Industry and Pastry Kitchens. Adding that little extra hook to an already addictive substances. But prior to that it was used in Punches and other complex alcoholic libations, including a lost cocktail ingredient called “Swedish Punsch.”
For years, Batavia Arrack was only available as a mail order item from obscure German Language websites. However, recently a US Company based in Minnesota began importing obscure spirits and liqueurs. Instead of basing it’s business model on pushing what it thinks cocktail enthusiasts and Food and Beverage professionals want, Haus Alpenz has chosen the odd tact of asking us for our opinions and sometimes giving us what we want. Pimento Dram, Violet Liqueur, Apricot Liqueur, and Batavia Arrack were all more or less lost to the US market until the company Haus Alpenz realized they could base a business on selling these highly desired commodities to cocktail enthusiasts and bars attempting to find lost flavors and use them as a base for new creations.
Should you decide to chance a purchase of Batavia Arrack, be warned it usually clocks in over 100 Proof, making it a bit on the dangerous side for straight consumption. Instead give the Swedish Punch recipe below a try, and then whip yourself up a Biffy Cocktail.
Flannestad Swedish (wait, maybe this should be Norwegian!) Punch
(Adapted from Jerry Thomas)
1/2 Cup Batavia Arrack
1 Cup Amber Rum
2 Lemons, Sliced Thin
1 Cup black, or other, tea made by steeping 2 teaspoons of tea in 1 cup hot water
1 Cup Sugar (Raw or Demerara is nice)
Combine lemons, Rum, and Arrack. Steep covered for 12 hours. Add sugar to hot tea, cool to room temperature, and chill in the fridge. The next day, pour rum off of lemons, not crushing out lemon juice. Discard lemon slices, or squeeze out liquored juice for another use. Combine with Sweetened tea mixture, rest a day, strain through a coffee filter or layers of clean cheesecloth. Enjoy chilled or when Swedish punch is called for. Makes about 375 ml.