Arak is an alcoholic drink produced from corn grain, barley, or other grain crops. The history of Arak can be traced back thousands of years, although Ossetic traditions and behavioural norms did not approve of engaging into drunkenness, or inducing others. However, it does not mean that Ossets were total abstainers. On special occasions, weddings, funeral receptions and other traditional celebrations our ancestors enjoyed Arak and Ossetic beer, but did so with dignity and knowing their limit. Furthermore, Ossets never drank without reason, merely out of the desire to drink. Recently, in certain and particularly in southern regions of Ossetia, Arak has been distilled from sources other than grain, such as fruits. But nonetheless, original Arak resulted from grain, and in the given article we will concentrate on this technology.
The taste and smell of Arak can be compared to Scottish whiskey, and certain types of the latter are very close to purified Arak of double distillation. This interesting fact in our opinion deserves the attention of historians, who study Alanian roots and their traces in Western Europe. Equally, I will be very glad if someone will take the opportunity to share an antique recipe of whiskey preparation.
Thus, how was Arak produced (distilled) by our grandmothers and grandfathers? They took approximately 10 – 20 kg (depending on the intended amount of the final product) of selected grain (zadag). The quality of grain for ferment determines the quality of the final product. The grain was then soaked in a large saucepan or a special pot and was set aside for three days. Following that period it was removed and spread out on an oilcloth or in a shallow trough in a layer of 5 to 7 cm thick and tightly covered with a blanket. If the layer is too thick, the grain might mould, if too thin, it will dry out. The grain must be allowed to sprout nicely, after which it is spread out in the sun to dry.
Germinated and dried grain is then grinded and placed in a sack. The ‘working’ grain was also grinded and boiled to form a gruel-like substance known as kasha. Its amount should exceed that of the grain for ‘zadag’ by 3 or 4 times, and the quality of the grain may be lower. This grain was boiled in large cast pots in the proportion of 2 buckets of water to 2 buckets of flour. After the kasha cooled, some flour from zadag would be added (3 kg of zadag for 10 kg of ‘working’ flour) and mixed thoroughly. The kasha became more liquid in substance and after it cooled further it was poured into steel barrels. Next a bucket with kasha was separated and after yeast was added to it, it was evenly distributed across the barrels with kasha (arakag). The substance was mixed once more and the barrels were tightly closed with a lid or a dense material. Air must not seep inside. The ferment was left alone for a week, after which the distillation can begin.
Nearly every household had special distilling equipment which consisted of a 50 litre cast-iron pot, a wooden cover and a 200 litre barrel with 2” copper tube penetrating the barrel.
The ferment (arakag) was loaded into the pot, which was tightly closed with the cover with a pipe bend (see drawing).
For a tighter seal the edges of the lid were also coated with kasha. The openpipe bend in the lid was also closely connected to the copper tube in the barrel, or a trough with cold water in the older times (see drawing).
As soon as the fire was kindled underneath the pot, the ferment began to cook. The fire must be kept moderate, as to avoid the splattering of the ferment through the pipe bend. In the same time the water in the barrel must be kept in a cooled down state, for which usually one of the younger members of the household was placed in charge of stirring the water. In the more recent times a specially manufactured steel cooler with a hose connecting to the faucet replaced the barrel.
After a certain period of time, the steam from the ferment, upon traveling through the tube, condensed into a liquid and trickled out of the opposite end of the pipe. A 10 litre glass vessel was situated underneath the tube, while over it was placed a filter consisting of a layer of clean medicinal cotton. It was replaced with a fresh one after every container of ferment. A full pot yielded on average 10 litres of Araka with 23 to 27% of alcohol. Notably, the first few streams are mush more concentrated than the succeeding ones. The last decades have witnessed the addition of sugar to the ferment for higher concentration. However, according to many testimonials this tactic results in headaches and overall unpleasant sensations fro those who consume the product.
Equally, double distillation of Arak is not uncommon. In this case the pot is filled with already prepared Arak instead of the ferment and underwent distillation again. The quantity decreased, however the quality increased. The concentration of alcohol rose noticeably.
The given description is presented for general information only. We strongly advise against the use of this information for the preparation of Arak within the household.
In most countries the legislation strictly prohibits the production of alcoholic beverages in private. Furthermore, the substance is highly flammable and its preparation within the home setting may lead to a tragic outcome.