Saturday, November 18, 2006

Making Arak ...

Finally I'm going to write about how we make Arak in Toula, my friend Graham wants it online, online it will go. [This work is copyrighted, which I naively understand as the right to copy - that is to say, anyone can copy/modify at will].
Arak is an aniseed flavoured distilled alcohol. It's the main alcoholic drink of Lebanon. Toula is known for the number of many artisanal Arak makers, who prepare Arak for their own consumption. Therefor the quality is much higher then the finest commercial Arak.

Usually the preparation of Arak is kind of celebrated with a party, lot's of amazing Lebanese food, lot's of drinking and socializing.
When I visited Toula the end of last summer, I attended one of those evenings, and of course had my share of the product at the end.

The main tool used is a sort of Alembic called Karkeh (in the Lebanese dialect). The main idea is to extract the alcohol out of the mix.

Here we can find a photo of the Karkeh, running full speed!

Scientifically what's happening is not so complicated, the device is something like this diagram.

Note that in the picture the product coming out to the left, while in the diagram it's coming out to the right.

So the mix is heated in the lower black part. It evaporates and then is cooled on the top black part, by a stream of cold water.

The final liquid is collected in a glass gallon.

Now, the Arak making is quite a long process, we can start by harvesting the vine grapes. Than the grapes are squeezed to make the juice come out. The whole is put in barrels for two or three weeks (depending on the temperature) to make sure the fermentation process is completed. The mixture is called Mestar. It is usually stirred every other day to make sure that all the organic vapours do not get stuck in the lower parts.

First distillation

After the fermentation is complete, the mix (all the squeezed vine grapes and the juice that have completed the fermentation) is put in the lower part of the karkeh.
A first distillation is done, and the product is alcohol, this is not Arak, just raw alcohol that cannot be drank.
In my last visit I didn't attend the first part of the process... What I witnessed (only this time, I've seen the whole thing times and times before) starts from here, the raw material being this alcohol.

Setting the stage for the 2nd distillation

The lower part of the karkeh is filled with a mixture of the raw alcohol we have:

Just some terminology, the jargon used:
The raw alcohol here is called spirto. It is remarkably close to the term spirits the western word for alcoholic drinks. This could be well a word taken from the French during their mandate of the region in the beginning of the 20th century.
The black lower part is called desset.

Ok, so now water and aniseed will be added too.

water is added to reduce the alcohol, and extend the 2nd distillation, this gives more time to the final product to be well flavored by the aniseed. Also water is added to make sure that the alcohol rate is not too high. Again this is a factor in the taste of the Arak.

The meter used, is based on the mass to volume ratio, alcohol being lighter than water, the more alcohol the lighter the liquid, the more the device goes deeper in the liquid. And you can read the degree of alcohol. I was told that for normal whisky the number is 40. Which is the number we see written on the most whisky bottles. I didn't double check this.

Now assembling the karkeh is next:

a paste of flower and water is used to keep the vapors inside.

The top is filled with cold water to cool the vapor and transform it into liquid..

The whole is heated to a temperature just below 100 degree celcius, so that only alcohol evaporates and is collected.

Toward the end of the process, when the alcohol concentration decreases, more water is collected at the other end, this can be noticed by the color of the mix collected, which turns into white.

at this point the karkeh is disassembled and the desset is emptied and cleaned:
first the paste is removed
then the upper part is removed
then the middle part

then the lower part is emptied:

after that the whole is cleaned and so on...

the final product, is finest quality Arak:

Careful with that... it's 70 percent of the volume...

That was a rather technical post, the fun and the embiance is very hard for me to reproduce.


Anonymous graham said...

I look forward sampling the 2006 vintage in London with you.

4:35 PM, November 19, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an american looking to start an Arak disterillery over here. Do you have any other information on your local Arak makers?

6:17 PM, September 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:39 PM, May 10, 2008  
Blogger charbel said...

There is no simple answer, we put enough aniseed to have the average of 2KG per Gallon (5litres) of Arak, but that also depends on the quality of the aniseed you have. Usually the more aniseed you use the less arak you get.
But the arak would be of a better quality.

Also in the second distillation, you add water till the mix have a concentration of about 15% alcohol..

hope this help,

yalla kessak

11:07 PM, May 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you mean 51% alcohol volume ratio in second distillation?.
you mean 2kg aniseed per 5 litters Arak(product)?? this is to much,don't you think so?.

1:27 PM, May 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

man kassak not kessak okay?

1:18 AM, June 03, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Bechmezzine we use the Ratio of 400 grams for the (Alafiyi) which is almost a Gallon, this is more likely.

George mina

8:58 AM, September 30, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the real lovers of Arak the distillation process is repeated a third time. This produces less Arak however the quality of the drink is far superior.

FYI: There is no way I would ever add water to the arak in the first distillation. This is only done to make the arak go further (ie: larger quantity) for those wishing to sell their product.

3:09 AM, April 04, 2009  
Blogger charbel said...

Response to the above comment:

a 3rd distillation is absolutely necessary - I totally agree.

as for adding water to the arak in the 2nd and 3rd distillation- I totally disagree with you, for the following reason:

1) you say this causes more arak to be extracted, that's physically impossible, as the temperature of boiling point of the alcohol is less then that of water, and the boiling of water is never reached, until the very end, where water start making the color of the mix white, at which point we stop collecting Arak (and switch to collecting White arak which would be used in another distillation another time)
So adding water would not change anything in regard to quantity.

so your assertion "this is only done to make the arak go further (ie: larger quantity) for those wishin to sell their product" is wrong.

2:19 PM, April 05, 2009  
Blogger charbel said...

2) In fact adding Water to the 2nd and 3rd distillation makes it take longer and gives time to the aniseed flavour to mix well and the taste of the arak is better.

3) The final product we are getting is 70% alcohol... so I wonder if you find anything like that in products you buy...(this said the amount of alcohol is definitely not the criteria to go by when looking for good arak)

2:22 PM, April 05, 2009  
Blogger wodih said...

Charbel. you are correct sir. I am from the chouf mountains and thats how we make it for years.
I live in florida and this year i collected lots of (Loquats) we call it AKKe dinieh in lebanon. I took the seeds out and let them ferment. i made 2 Gallons of spirit.55%ABV. i am going to try to make arak out of them.
another question: Did any one try to make arak from Vodka or by adding anise extract??

6:05 PM, April 09, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

email me if you want to start an Arek factory/distillery in the US, I would be interested in finding out more, and perhaps backing your venture.

6:00 PM, July 11, 2009  
Blogger Abu Fouad said...

Dear Friend
There is a problem with homemade Arak: Most of it is harsh and of low quality no matter how good are the grapes, the Karake or the anis. Your procedure is lacking a third step called "altatleet" which most homemakers do not know how to do. This is what makes an Arak great and smooth. Old commercial traditional houses such as Touma or Ghantous abi-Raad, know how to do this Tatleet and produce the right brew. Also, on the 2nd step, not only the end brew needs to be thrown out but also the top brew that comes first. This is called in Lebanon "Arak Raj`i" that is harsh, gives headache and is subject among old-timers to many jokes. Most new "yuppy" brands and homemade product have this harshness and is rejected by old timers. It is unfortunate that in Lebanon, most young Arak drinkers today do not know what their forefathers know about the smoothness of Arak. I am from the area of Zahle, the center of wine and Arak industry in Lebanon. I grew up tasting and knowing about the subject. Do yourself a favor (unless you enjoy the process of making Arak), buy a good old Touma or Ghantous bottle and enjoy the real thing. Kasak.
Abu Fouad

6:28 PM, August 11, 2009  
Blogger Charbel said...

I bet you like Mc Donald burgers as well?

or are you related to Touma or Ghantous abi-Raad?

We sometime use it (Touma or Ghantous abi-Raad) with a detergent to do the dishes.

Home made arak quality can vary a lot, but the top quality of the industrial ones have not chance competing with the high quality traditionally made ones. Same as Mc Donald food and home made food...

And Ghantous w Abou Raad and Touma are the lowest quality I know off... if you were talking about Massaya it would be easy to find home made with lower quality.

10:18 PM, August 11, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:57 PM, August 18, 2009  
Anonymous elie khairallah said...

buy a sweet golden obeidi grapes take only the fruit smash them in a barrel for 22 days room temp 24* taste the liquid then prepare a clean quarakeh with double cooler mean by that long brass tube going out from quarakeh to a spiral brass cooler in water put only the fermented liquid inside and extract the alcohol 2nd mix water with alcohol to 20 % * add aniseed 2kg/1gl and and leave all for 20 hrs next day start distilling when you heard boiling and first arak drops comes out wait until you get 50 cl of this arak remove them and collect the other by this time you eliminate the methanol and now your liquid temp inside is above 75*remain on this fire until the liquid becomes white so stop distilling and enjoy arak drinking

10:01 AM, September 18, 2009  
Blogger Elodie said...

I am a french reporter and I work for the national channel. For a tv show about lebanon, we would like to visit an arak distillery. Could you give me a phone number to call, or any contact that could help us to fine a distillery ?
thank you very much.
Elodie Noël

10:07 AM, March 30, 2010  
Blogger Charbel said...

hi Elodie,

please send me an email to

I'll try to give you contacts in Private.


12:23 AM, March 31, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi charbel mate get stuck into them you mug there is nothing like uncle norms arak its the best in lebanon if only he would leave us some so we can have a couple drinks with him when we get there.his always on the turps the barsted.

9:04 AM, June 19, 2010  
Blogger arik said...

Hi Charbel
Thanks for nice presentation.
I'm also a home arak prducer,
Insshala one day we will drink togther.

6:31 PM, July 06, 2010  
Blogger Norman said...

Elie states that you need to get rid of the first 50cl(500ml) of the 2nd distillation? What if you only have 10L of alcohol to distill - do you still remove 500ml or do you remove less? Is there a ratio or does anyone know how to work out how much to throw out at the beginning of the second distillation?

7:21 AM, September 30, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am still faithful to your blog !


5:30 PM, November 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the link I wanted to paste !


5:31 PM, November 16, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do need to add water to 2nd and third runs to prevent the still boiling dry, just remember that the added water stays in the still you are only removing alcohol from the still, dont let temp go over 80 degrees C or you will make distilled water. this is basic stuff, water boils at 100 degrees, so dont go that high

10:06 PM, December 23, 2010  
Blogger Charbel said...

your explanation about the temperature is true, but the reason for adding water is to help the aniseed boil and mix and give maximum flavour to the arak.
The taste and smell of the arak is greatly improved this way.

10:27 PM, December 23, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Charbel,
Can you please tell me when is anise added in the 2nd or 3rd distillation? And at what percentage of alcohol should I stop the boiling?

3:35 PM, January 06, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i hope they try to make that in America. i have pay premium to remember Beirut nights, we'll drink some, smoke some(f.y.i. baalbek grass is the best) and go out to the clubs. will look funny at white people, dance some and go eat. the best food in the world is in Lebanon.

here, white people look funny at me!

10:35 PM, April 01, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr charbel i heard when the boil the mixture you have to keep it on a certain degree because if it goes higher than this degree it will turn to bad alcohol... alcohol they used in the hospitals i was wondering if that's right...and if ti is right how you can keep it from going up to that degree

11:09 AM, May 22, 2011  
Blogger ingrid said...

hello everyone, i am from a small village in lebanon, my father taught me the best way to do arak. well it is gonna stay a family secret, but what i can tell you that you are missing something. you can do research about the grape vines ( tiges) if they are heated they can produce methanol which causes heart problem on the long term. so you should remove them as soon as you squeeze the grape.
about the arak al "souk" or the arak that we buy from the market, i dont think they are made from grapes from the beginning and they are not good at all. even the taste is so wrong on so many level.
thank you.

10:17 AM, June 11, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi ingrid
what do mean by the grape vines ( tiges) you mean (el3ro2)??
and what i heared if you heated the juice for more than 80 degree that what produce methanol,i wonder if that's true!
wish to taste your arak!
thank you

11:15 AM, June 21, 2011  
Blogger Arak Lover said...

Methanol boils at 65 degrees, ethanol at 78 degrees. therefore in order to be on the safe side, I would heat the mixture to 70 degrees till no liquid in distilled, throw that liquid and move on to 80 degrees - that will be ethanol.

12:19 PM, July 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The comment on methanol is mostly true, I have never made arak but alcohol behaves the same for the most part. When you heat it to 80C the very beginning of the distillate will still contain some of the things that give a headache. I you throw away anything that comes over under 78C (assuming you heat slowly and segregate the first 50 ml of a 10 L batch you will probably be safer. Then segregate the next 100 ml and set aside. Now collect another 100 ml's and compare the smell and taste. If you do it this way you will learn what to keep and what to save for the next batch. The parts you save are in the middle, they are called the hearts. once the flavor and taste stabilize you will be collecting hearts. Once the smell begins to become different in a bad way, start segregating that too. You keep the hearts, you save the heads and tails for another batch (The beginning and ends of the batch.) I hope this helps.

10:00 PM, January 29, 2012  
Blogger ChicksinFla said...

I recently saw a bottle of Arak with a stick of wood in it. What is that? What kind of wood? Why? Thank you.

3:58 AM, June 02, 2013  
Anonymous Imad Riachy said...

Just some comments: this blue barrel that is used for fermentations is not a food grade container and people should refrain from using it. In wines to be distilled and anise seeds both contains two major types of soluble compounds, those that are soluble in alcohol and those that r soluble in water. Therefore if you need full compounds extractions u need to simmer the materials for some time in an alcohol/water mixture , so both water and alcohol are needed for distillation. Third comment, methanol comes from distillation of woody material and methanol is bad for eyes not hearts, therefore the best is to ferment/distil only the juice part of the grapes. Finally, the words spirits and alambic has nothing to do with a French origin they are of an Arabic origin "al-inbic" "isbirto" when inb khaldoon was searching for the elixir of life "al-ixsir"

11:00 PM, October 20, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo Imad for the explanation. The best way to know when the methanol and ethanol distillation is complete, just try my grandpa method of throwing the suspected liquid on any hot part of the karakeh: if it ignites them it is methanol and ethanol, if not then it is arak


7:23 AM, September 22, 2014  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like to see a video on the whole process even building the karakeh and so on cheers for the one who does that.

2:27 PM, July 11, 2015  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What would you guys have to say about AL RIF brand?

2:43 AM, August 19, 2015  
Anonymous Gureni said...

hi Charbel , that's a very nice blog.
If I want to reduce the alcohol to 25% in the second distillation, should I change the amount of the aniseed as well? if so how much?

4:15 PM, January 19, 2016  
Blogger Charbel said...

Hi there,
I don't know, I've never done that.

5:13 PM, January 19, 2016  
Anonymous Gureni said...

So for the second distillation I have to reduce the spirto to 15% and add 2KG per Gallon of arak before dilution or after that. For example I have 2 gallon spirto of 53% and add 5 gallon water to reduce the spirto to 15% and get 7 gallon .
new shall I add 3.5Kg aniseed(7gallon)
or 2Kg aniseed(2gallon)?

11:57 AM, January 20, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just to be clear. If you do 3 distillations, it goes:

1 Distil wine fast. This gives you a smaler volume at about 30% strength, but with methanol, fusil oils etc.

2 Distil again, this time slowly and taking care to discard heads (first output) and tails (last output). If you do this properly you will get a very clean, safe base spirit at about 70%.

3 Dilute this to about 30% and add anise. Leave to macerate. Distil the third time. You can go quite fast this time. The dilution is necessary for two reasons, first is safety because 30% will not explode if you have a vapour leak. Second is that you need water to lift some of the flavour components. Collect until it goes milky. This gives you maybe 70% if you go slow, 60 if you go fast.

That's it.

We use a slightly different approach; we use a reflux still for part 2 to get a *very* clean, smooth base spirit. And for stage 3 we use a gin head with the anise and some other herbs, which means we get a hot, dry vapour extraction. About 50g of anise per litre of dilute spirit in the still.

This gives a beautiful, clean deep, lively Arak, with no burning, and no headache next day.

It's a modern take on my Grandfather's recipe (from Aleppo)

8:21 PM, January 26, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a difficult question. In a simple world, if you use a lower strength spirit, you add proportionately less aniseed. The problem is that you will not get the same flavour profile because water and alcohol extract different flavours.

My suggestion would be to macerate at the usual strength, using the usual amount of aniseed per litre, then dilute to your 25% immediately before you distil.

That gets round the problem.

9:26 PM, January 26, 2016  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks to all of you for such a great discussion, which I have enjoyed very much! One question - is the obeidi grape the only grape preferred, and how would you compare that grape to other (white?) grapes, and what would you recommend if obeidi are not available?

5:53 AM, June 01, 2018  

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