What's the alcoholic spirit that every Arabian grandfather drinks? Arak. Love it or leave it, what's the spirit that tastes like licorice? Yup, that's Arak, too.
Arak is a clear spirit made from grapes and anise seeds. Because of its lack of color, drinkers often expect Arak to taste like vodka. More grappa than vodka, this distilled spirit is known for its high alcohol content (80 to 126 proof). Due to its strength, Arak is nicknamed "the milk of lions." Similar to absinthe in that it turns from clear to cloudy when water is added, Arak is often poured over ice rather than ice being added atop the spirit. This method is advised because the oils from the anise seed may solidify from the cold temperature of the ice causing a filmy layer to develop on top of the beverage.
In Portland, we are lucky to have locally-made Oregon Arak produced by Bull Run Distillery. From Jamal Hassan's travels to Israel, Hassan "fell for Arak." (Hassan is the bar director at Shalom Y'All Southeast and Shalom Y'All Southwest restaurants, both of which are part of the locally-founded and -owned Toro Bravo, Inc Restaurant Management & Design Group.) "On a lark," Hassan says, "I mentioned Arak to Lee [Medoff, distiller] at Bull Run." From there, they created an Oregon Arak that uses Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and Syrian anise seed; a true meeting-in-the-mouth between the Pacific Northwest and the Middle East. Three years after his travels, Hassan's beloved Oregon Arak is so popular that the distillery is challenged to keep up with demand. Jennifer Kadell, director of operations at Bull Run Distillery, says "The project with Jamal is very timely because there is a growing interest in spirits that have been around for a long time in other cultures that are becoming newly rediscovered. This opens up a whole new world of cocktail and culinary applications."
Speaking of culinary applications: In 2018 "April is for Arab Food" became a focused movement to highlight Arabian cuisines. This effort was started by bloggers Nadia and Deana of Sweet Pillar Food and Mai of Almond and Fig. The Portland contact, Cosette Posko of Cosette's Kitchen blog says, "The idea behind it was to showcase Arab food through storytelling, history and beautiful photos." Posko continues, "This year, we wanted to elevate the experience and decided to host events in different cities. Some were casual meetups at an Arab restaurant or a meetup for coffee. I became the point contact for Portland and wanted to hold true to what I have been doing this past year, hosting events to foster the foodie community."
Cosette's Kitchen blog is a great-and gorgeous- resource for Arabian recipes. Growing up with her father who is a Lebanese chef/restaurant owner, and in a heavily female-dominated home kitchen consisting of her mother, grandmothers, and aunts, Posko remarks that "every recipe comes with a story." Posko shares her extensive knowledge and culture through her blog posts, recipes, and photos. Here is just one her recipes (and it happens to pair well with Arak.)
Fasolia bi Zeit (Beans with Olive Oil)
Prep time: 10 minutesCook time: 5 minutes
A creamy bean dip perfect for a party platter.
And what goes well with food? Why, drinks, of course. No other alcoholic beverage is as synonymous with Arabian food as is Arak.
Traditionally served with mezze (baba ganoush, labneh, pita, hummus, and other snacks), Arak is intended for sipping. With nibbles such as those listed, drinkers may choose to add a little water and/or ice to their pour of Arak. For after dinner imbibing, it is suggested that Arak be enjoyed "neat" (a.k.a. served unchilled and without anything added to it).
Naturally, Bar Director Jamal Hassan has done some serious cocktail recipe development with his Oregon Arak. Here he shares a few:
Shake all ingredients, and strain into a large goblet or hurricane style glass. Fill glass with crushed ice and garnish with freshly grated nutmeg and a cherry and cocktail umbrella.
Stir with ice and strain into a frozen double old fashioned glass. Express a lemon peel and discard.
Hard shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a large goblet style glass. Top with crushed ice and garnish with start anise pods.
Muddle the orgeat with lemon wedges and pom seeds. Add other ingredients and shake and double strain into a double old fashioned glass. Top with ice and garnish with 6-8 pom seeds.
Turkish Stout Flip
To a cocktail shaker, add all ingredients and shake with ice. Strain cocktail off ice, and shake again in a shaker with no ice to froth and emulsify the egg into the drink. Top with 2 oz Gilgamesh Turkish Coffee Stout. Pour into a large goblet style glass or mug. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg.
At the restaurant, Mediterranean Exploration Company, Bar Manager Erica Namare serves "High Tea". This incredible tea presentation billows and steams. Serving 2 to 3 guests, it is a tableside showstopper. High Tea is made with gin, Oregon Arak, mint iced tea, lemon and honey, and the vapors (thus making it "steam"). Although not on the standard menu, Namare makes a wicked Arak Negroni. Beg for it by name. Both of these Arak beverages pairs well with savory and sweet dishes. The salmon belly carpaccio with dill, Turkish Haydari-a mezze made up of green chickpeas, feta, and basil- and the rhubarb ice box cake with graham cracker crust and edible beet powder all stood up to the flavorful Oregon Arak drinks.
Intrigued? Either head into Bull Run Distillery or ask for it at your local liquor store.
Bull Run Distilling Company. 2256 NW Quimby Street. Portland, Oregon
Shalom Y'All SE. 117 SE Taylor #101. Portland, Oregon
Shalom Y'All SW. 1128 SW Alder. Portland, Oregon
Mediterranean Exploration Company. 333 NW 13th Avenue. Portland, Oregon