The Best of Beirut
on May 12, 2014 By Danielle Issa
Arak: a crystal clear, unsweetened Levantine alcoholic drink distilled from anise and dubbed the “milk of lions.”
In its pure form, it is colorless. When diluted with water and ice, it takes on a cloudy, opaque appearance. Without it, no mezza is complete. And with it, refreshment like no other. Drinking arak is even rumored to restore health and defend the immune system against bacteria-laden foods.
So who in Lebanon is brewing the finest licorice-flavored liquor? We’ve got your five best bets here, but be warned: a bit of forage outside Beirut is compulsory.
Photo via Haaretz
With their El Massaya brand of arak in its distinctive blue bottle (massaya is actually the name given to the dark blue, Bekaa Valley twilight), the Ghosn brothers breathe new life into Lebanon’s national drink. The arak is triple distilled from indigenous grape varieties and un-crushed anise, considered to be the best in the world. Left to age 12-18 months in traditional clay jars from Beit Chabeb, El Massaya arak is considered to be among the drink of choice for devotees of this palate-cleansing eau de vie.
Photo via Massaya
With an ingenious name like Ksarak, a merger of “Ksara” and “arak,” who can resist this premium Lebanese blend of anise-flavored, high alcohol spirit? The pure grape alcohol is first fermented, eliminating the methanol and all heavy and unhealthy oils that spoil the taste. A second distillation occurs in a specially designed alembic distilling device in France together with the anise. Post-refining, Ksarak is matured for two years and then bottled for commercialization.
Charles Malek Ave.
Photo via LAC Products
Arak Brun is the world’s most famous arak. Produced inside a 100-year-old cellar in the prestigious Domaine des Tourelles, Arak Brun is processed traditionally using a three-stage distillation process. It is totally free of methanol, which makes it pure as a distilled spirit. The crystal clear arak is aged according to traditional processes, granting it a fine softness and pleasant taste that marries harmoniously with Mediterranean mezza.
Chtaura Main Road
Photo via morewines.com
Said Touma hails from a family history of more than 100 years in the manufacturing of alcohol. His venture, under the name of Clos St. Thomas, places a heavy emphasis on fermentation and preservation using the latest technology and sophisticated equipment. As such, it is no wonder that Arak Touma is one of the most highly-recognized aniseed liquors worldwide. Distilled four times, this arak truly is the milk of lions, and its potent taste makes for an incomparable, laidback Sunday afternoon.
Kab Elias Road
Photo via Scotland Stephenson
In the small town of Jdita nestled in the heart of the Bekaa, the Nakad family has been tilling the soil and making wine for over three generations. Chateau Nakad may be acclaimed for its inimitable Afandello, a unique artisanal citrus liqueur similar to Italy’s Limoncello but derived from citrus peel and tangerines. However, its Arack As-Samir is in a league of its own. A special pure arak, it is cultivated from the finest grapes, anise and spring water in the Bekaa, undergoing three distillations before a two-year aging process. This arak will definitely lull you into euphoria.
Photo via No Garlic No Onions
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
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