Making Arak

Arak is the national alcoholic drink of Lebanon. It is a distillate from grape alcohol and aniseed.
Making arak is quite a long process. First, the grapes are harvested, then squeezed and poured in barrels for two or three weeks (depending on the temperature) to make sure the fermentation process is complete. The mixture is called Mestar.

The main tool used is called a Karkeh (in the Lebanese dialect). The main idea is to extract the alcohol out of the mix. After the fermentation is complete, the mix is put in the lower part of the karkeh.

This first distillation produces alcohol, this is not Arak, just raw alcohol that cannot be drunk.

The raw alcohol is called spirto. Water is added to reduce the alcohol and make sure that the alcohol level is not too high. Again this is a factor in the taste of the Arak.

A second distillation is done. One third the volume of alcohol is added, water plus 2 pounds of aniseed per gallon of alcohol. The aniseed is kept whole and is soaked in hot alcohol in the still the day prior to distillation. This is then distilled a third time.
You end up with a distillate that is 170 proof which is diluted with distilled water to 100 proof (if the proof is less than 100, Arak turns cloudy). It is aged in pottery crocks for a month. The final product is the of course finest quality Arak.

In the picture you see a man, either drunk or asleep, next to the karkeh. Right next to him is a small table with a glass of Arak. There are two ceramic pots that be used for either oil or olive oil. There is also a water pipe pouring water on top of the karkeh. When the water is boiling, the steam goes up the pipe. There is a half circle that with the cold water against the hot steam, causes the liquid to become Arak. The basin is built so that the alcohol and water is separated. The Arak is collected in a separate glass jar and the water goes to waste.