Also spelt: Arrac, Arak, Arac, and also known as Rack.
Arrack can be distilled from fermented rice, fermented palm-tree or coconut tree sap, or fermented dates.
There is also Bitter Arrac, and Black Arrac.
Do not confuse with Turkish Arac, or Raki.
Arrack is an often confused liquor due to the origins of its name. During the 14th century, the knowledge of distillation spread quickly throughout the Middle East and Asia. The original Arabic word, “Araq” was associated with the distillation process and each country adopted their own Latin spellings of the same word to associate with their own particular alcohol. These names included arak, araka, araki, arrack, arack, raki, rac, rak, araka – just to name a few.
In South East Asia, Arrack became synonymous with the alcoholic beverage distilled from the sap of three types of palm trees (Coconut, Palmyra, and Kithul). Sri Lanka became the largest producer of coconut arrack and is widely associated with this spirit. Sri Lankan coconut arrack is often described as a blend between whiskey and rum – smoother than the former, but not as sweet as the latter. Although derived from the coconut tree, Arrack’s flavor profile contains a mere trace of the coconut flavor with hints of vanilla and mellowed with the woody flavor of Teak or Halmilla.
Arrack should not be confused with Batavia Arrack. Although similarly named, Batavia Arrack is distilled from sugar cane and red rice and provides a completely different taste profile.
Arrack should also not be confused with Arak, an anise-flavored alcohol.
Arrack is a unique alcohol. Other than water, the spirit is comprised of a single ingredient, the sap of flowers from coconut trees. Every morning, men (known as “toddy tappers”) climb into the tops of coconut trees to cut the unopened flower buds. The sap begins to flow and its high concentration of sugar and yeast prompts a natural fermentation process that begins immediately in clay pots placed beneath each flower bud. Within 4 hours the mildly alcoholic liquid (called “toddy’) collected in the clay pots is emptied into vats made from wood of the Halmilla tree.
Distillation generally follows a two-step process involving pot stills, continuous stills, or a combination of both. The first distillation step results in low wine with an alcohol content between 20 to 40%. A second distillation results in raw arrack with an alcohol content of 60 to 90%.
Aging & Blending
Depending upon the brand’s flavor profile, arrack may undergo additional distillation, filtering, or aging in Halmilla barrels before blending with water to a final alcohol content between 33 to 50%. Premium blends maintain their single ingredient composition; no other ingredients are added. Cheaper blends are often mixed with neutral spirits.
Manufacturers and Brands
Sri Lanka has three large manufacturers of Arrack (DCSL, IDL & Rockland) comprising 91% of the total production. Brands include VSOA, VX, Extra Special, Double Distilled, Old Arrack and White Label.
Drinks made with Arrack
Coconut Arrack is traditionally consumed neat, on the rocks, or with ginger beer, a popular soda in Sri Lanka. Popular mixers include cola, soda water, and lime juice. Arrack may also be used as a unique substitute in cocktails traditionally mixed with rum or whiskey.
"Encyclopædia metropolitana; or, Universal dictionary of knowledge", ed. by E. Smedley, Hugh J....By Encyclopaedia, 1845
"Arrac, Arrack, Arac, Rack, Samsu of the Chinese. An ardent spirit obtained by distillation from the external pulp of different species of palms, or from rice, which has been fermented. At Goa, and in Ceylon, the arrack is distilled from toddy, the fluid obtained from cocoa-nut and palmyra, by an incision made near the top of the tree. A pot sufficient to hold two quarts is fixed, at night, just below the place whence a shoot has been cut, and in the morning is removed with juice. At Batavia, arrack is distilled from paddi, or rice in the husk. Good arrack should be clear, yellow, of a strong smell and taste, and have, at least 52-54 per cent. of alcohol. That made at Goa, and thrice rectified, is the best. The Batavian is not so clear or well coloured. The Parriar, Colombia, and Quilon arrack, are very strong and fiery. The Chinese increase it stimulus by the addition of holothurias, a sort of worm found in the East Indies."
"The New and Complete American Encyclopedia", 1805
"Arack, Arrack, or Rack, a spiritous liquor imported from the East Indies, used by way of dram and in punch. The word arrack is an Indian name for strong waters of all kinds; but what we understand by this word, is no other than a spirit produced by distillation from a vegetable juice called toddy, which flows by incisions from the cocoa-nut tree, like the maple juice procured among us. The manner of making arack at Goa is this: The juice of the trees is not procured in the way of tapping, as we do; but the operator provides himself with a parcel of earthen pots, with bellies and necks like our ordinary bird bottles; he makes fast a number of these to his girdle, and any way else that commodioudly can about him. Thus quipped, he climbs up the trunk of a cocoa tree; and when he comes to the boughs, he takes out his knife, and cutting off one of the knots or buttons, he applies the mouth of the bottle to the wound, fastening it to the bough with a bandage; in the same manner he cuts off other buttons, and fastens on his pots, till the whole number is used: this done in the evening, and descending from the tree, he leaves them till the next morning; when he takes off the bottles, which are mostly filled, and empties the juice into the proper receptacle. This is repeated every night, till a sufficient quantity is produced; andd the whole being then put together, is left to ferment, which it soon does. When the fermentation is over, and the liquor or wash is become a little tart, it is put onto the still, and a fire being made, the still is suffered to work as long as that which comes over has any considerable taste of spirit. The liquor thus procured is the low wine of arack; and this is so poor a liquor, that it will soon corrupt and spoil, if not distilled again, to seperate some its phlegm; they therefore immediately after pour back this low wine into the still, and rectify it to that very weak kind of proof-spirit, in which state we find it."