Arrack – The Discerning Sri Lankan’s Beverage of Choice
In Sri Lanka, liquor and even beer aren’t normally sold in supermarkets. You have to find a “Wine Store”, as they’re generally called, and join a long queue of thirsty locals. During my first experience in this line of shame, at a dingy shed behind the grocery store in Kandy, I watched in amazement as the twenty-odd guys in front of me all ordered the exact same thing. Arrack.
Arrack is far and away the most popular liquor in Sri Lanka. A sign at the window clearly stated that only ten bottles could be sold to an individual. Well, then! The clerk even kept boxes of it next to him, so he didn’t have to stand up to fetch orders, which were always the same. When it was my turn at the counter, I followed suit and all the way home was in a giddy state of anticipatory bliss. A new sort of liquor! What would it taste like?!
Turns out, arrack tastes great. Mostly like rum, a little like whiskey, but then also not like either of those. The liquor is produced from coconuts; specifically, from the sap of unopened coconut flowers. Every morning at dawn, toddy tappers climb onto palm trees around Sri Lanka’s coastlines to harvest the flower — every tree can provide up to two liters per day.
The collected sap immediately ferments into toddy, which is mildly alcoholic. Within hours after harvesting, the toddy is brought to collection centers for distillation, a process which takes about 24 hours. During maturation, which can last up to twelve years, the liquor is flavored with herbs. Arrack is billed as the world’s “only naturally fermented alcoholic beverage“, which obviously means that it’s totally healthy, and I’m allowed to drink as much as I want. Shut up, Jürgen, that’s what it means. I said shut up.
Arrack goes down easy, both straight and mixed. While in Kandy, it become something of a ritual of ours to sit out on the balcony with a drink during sunset. I’m a master mixologist, and after finding a half-empty bottle of ginger beer in our fridge, I invented the following drink, which I’ve named in honor of my hero.
Sit back and enjoy!