Arak, sometimes called lion’s milk, is the simple anise-flavored spirit from the Mediterranean. The name comes from the Arabic word araq, meaning “perspiration.” Many historians believe that, since distillation was devised in the Middle East, it could be the first distilled alcoholic beverage in the history of mankind, though others believe that only the distillation process was invented while the drink was born elsewhere due to the fact that the consumption of alcohol was already forbidden in the Mediterranean Levant. Whichever it was, its influence is steeped throughout the region: ouzo in Greece; raki in Turkey; zibibib in Egypt; pastis in France; and ojen in Spain.
The poetry of this millenary drink starts with its production, since the vineyards are tended to by only the Mediterranean climate: watered by its rain and nourished by its particular sun. Then, the grapes are chosen when they are ripe, that is, of a golden color.
Subsequently, the grapes (though it can also be made with figs) are crushed and poured into barrels, where the must (freshly crushed grape juice) sits for three weeks, the mixture stirred from time to time. To transform it into its final form, it must undergo two distillations. The first in the alembic (a copper device formerly used to distill perfumes), raising the temperature of the barrels’ contents to 78.3 ºC so that the alcohol boils, but no water is generated. In the second distillation, the process is repeated, but the anise is added.
Once ready, it can be drunk neat, with juice or tea, always in small glasses. A new glass must be used for each pour. It is usually paired with meze (an assortment of small dishes served as an appetizer). A typical serving is one third arak and two thirds water. As the clear alcohol mixes with the water, it takes on a milky white color, after which, ice is added.
In the mountains of Lebanon, a great feast is held during the preparation of arak. People gather to help the maker and celebrate its production. What a beautiful image, the final line of the poem, to be drinking this curious drink among the verdant hills of Lebanon!