Arak History in Batroun District
Arak, a traditional alcoholic drink crafted from distilled grapes and aniseed, holds deep cultural roots in Lebanon and the Levant, particularly in Batroun district, known for its vineyards.
Arak’s production in Batroun traces back to the 14th century during Mamluk rule. The Mamluks favored arak, encouraging its cultivation and enhancing its quality with the introduction of copper stills. This boosted its popularity among locals, leading to profitable exports to neighboring regions.
Under Ottoman rule from the 16th to 20th centuries, arak-making traditions persisted. Although taxed, the Ottomans granted privileges to producers and merchants, cementing arak’s status as a symbol of social standing and hospitality among Lebanese society.
Arak Making Time
The process of making arak involves several key steps:
Harvesting and Crushing Grapes: Grapes are gathered, cleaned, and crushed to extract juice and pulp, taking a few hours to days depending on the harvest size and method used.
Fermenting Grape Juice: Juice and pulp ferment naturally in a large container for one week to several months, converting sugar into alcohol, influenced by temperature and desired alcohol levels.
Distilling Fermented Grape Juice: Fermented juice is heated in a copper still, producing a low-alcohol spirit, araqi. This is then redistilled with aniseed to create arak, a process taking a few hours to days depending on volume and potency.
Aging and Diluting Arak: Arak is aged in clay jars or glass bottles for several months to years, allowing it to mature and gain smoothness. Dilution with water to 40%-50% alcohol content causes it to turn milky white due to anise oil precipitation, taking weeks to years based on preference.
Enjoying Arak: Arak is served chilled or with ice, mixed with water, often accompanied by mezze dishes like cheese, olives, hummus, and tabbouleh.
Crafting arak can span from weeks to years, influenced by grape quality, fermentation duration, distillation efficiency, aging preferences, and dilution methods, culminating in a beverage appreciated for its unique taste and heritage.
Aging profoundly impacts arak’s taste, fostering maturity, smoothness, and a balanced fusion of grape and anise flavors. Duration varies from weeks to years, with Lebanon’s minimum aging at three weeks, though many age it longer.
The choice of aging vessel, like clay jars, glass bottles, or wooden barrels, influences arak differently. Clay jars allow oxygen entry, softening the drink, while glass preserves freshness. Wood barrels add color and flavor.
Aged arak boasts a smoother, richer profile, displaying anise undertones alongside fruity, floral, and herbal hints. Its diluted form turns milky white due to anise oil precipitation, signifying maturity.
Arak Grapes Quality and Taste
The quality of arak heavily relies on grape quality, influenced by various factors like grape variety, soil, climate, harvest timing, and storage conditions. Grape quality determines the character, aroma, and alcohol content of the eventual arak product.
Typically, white grape varieties such as Obeidi, Merwah, or Sultani, well-suited to the local environment, produce a light, fruity wine ideal for distillation. Occasionally, red grape varieties like Cinsault or Cabernet Sauvignon are used to impart color and body to the wine.
Batroun’s soil rich in limestone and clay, coupled with its Mediterranean climate, featuring hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters, offers an ideal grape-growing environment. Grapes benefit from sea breezes and mountain altitudes, contributing to their quality.
Harvesting occurs during late summer or early autumn when grapes are ripe and sweet, followed by crushing for juice extraction. The fermentation process occurs naturally in large containers.
Proper storage conditions, maintaining cool, dry spaces away from light and pests, are crucial in preserving grape freshness and quality.