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Arak – An Ancient Drink With A Modern Interest


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A few weeks ago, I discovered Zachlawi Fig Arak on Facebook.  I thought it sounded interesting and wondered what Arak was.  The next day I saw it in a friend’s house. Isn’t it weird how you discover something new and then you see it everywhere?  I sampled this sweet, strong fig Arak.  It was absolutely delicious and I had to learn more.

Arak is a Middle Eastern aniseed flavored liqueur with a long history.   It is made by fermenting grapes, dates, sugar, plums or figs with water, aniseed and sometimes more sugar.  It is usually served ice cold: 1/3 Arak to 2/3 water and ice.  As water is added, the Arak becomes milky in color which is why it is sometimes referred to as “Milk of Lions”.  It can also be mixed with fruit juice or tea.  Since fig Arak is a little sweeter than clear Arak, it can be enjoyed straight up.  It is best served alongside Mezze — middle eastern appetizers like Stuffed Grape Leaves or Hummus and Pita.

In 2005, Marty Kairey, a New Jersey resident with a Syrian-Sephardi background, decided to commercially distill his own Arak in an artisanal Jersey shore distillery under the brand name Zachlawi.

I asked Marty, what drove him to make Arak and he told me “When I was first married my wife and I lived in Flatbush, Brooklyn.  My landlord was an old sage from Aleppo, Syria.  Mr. Srour would buy cases of raisins and ferment them.  He would then cook the mash with Aniseed in a stove top ‘Kirke’ or pot still.  I remember Mr. Srour controlling the flames that would shoot out from the gas burners with a couple of bricks. Thinking back, it was a wonder it never exploded.”

“Anyway,” Kairey continued, “my desire to reach back to my heritage sparked my curiosity and I picked up the ancient craft of making Arak.  My education went from moonshining to industry training and finally when I opened my own distillery, I hired Roy Emerson of Seagram’s Canada to work with me and train me in my apprenticeship as a master distiller.”

Most commercially available Arak is distilled with molasses, as a less expensive alternative for mass production.  Marty decided quality was the most important thing and he makes his product with fresh natural ingredients.  He makes a traditional Arak, a Fig Arak and a very small production of single cask Arak.  All Zachlawi products are certified Kosher for Passover by the OU.

At 80-proof, Arak is not for the light hearted, but the fruit does shine through and it is the perfect complement to any Purim seudah.

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About Tamar Genger MA, RD


Tamar lives in New York and is the mother of three amazing children, a Registered Dietitian, professor of Nutrition, and as you can probably guess, a foodie! Tamar loves to travel with her family and visits kosher restaurants wherever she goes. Although she loves the sights, she spends more time talking about the restaurants and food she ate! As a mom and a nutritionist, Tamar tries to balance her passion for healthy cooking with her insatiable desire for chocolate!




14 Responses to Arak – An Ancient Drink With A Modern Interest

  1. avatar says: fbogus

    The Zachlawi tradtional arak is outstanding. Most arak has all the subtlety of antifreeze. The Zachlawi is smooth and delicious. Their website mentions a guava arak that I’m looking forward to trying.

  2. When I was in Israel for a year in seminary, i volunteered at a soup kitchen a few times a week. One Friday a month, the Israeli Yeshiva guys who volunteered there regularly would bring a bottle of Arak for the “loyal” volunteers who stayed until after cleanup. We would have a little pre-Shabbat l’chaim, complete with regulach and sesame covered pretzels. Great memories.

  3. Tamar, do you know if this is still kosher for Pesakh? It seems that Marty may have sold this brand . . . Can you help? Thanks!

  4. avatar says: mo

    The Fig Arak is awesome.
    With regard to passover Fig arak — I called the company- The square bottles are all Kosher for Passover.all new production is in the square bottles.
    My local store has some older round bottles which are not kosher for passover.)

  5. I tasted the arak and love it.
    I am at the jfk airport for one day. Where is the closest
    Liquor store that carries the product? I checked 5 liquor stores
    With to no avail.

  6. I need to find a store on the upper Eastside that carries the fig arak

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