In 2007, Nader Muaddi moved from his home in Philadelphia to the West Bank to work with an organization that focused on displacement and resettlement. He’s still there—with a wife, two daughters and a new business in Beit Jala, a village just northwest of Bethlehem. It’s called Arak Muaddi, and is possibly the newest brand of what’s possibly the world’s oldest spirit.
Arak is from the Arabic word for “sweat,” which is sort of unappetizing but also accurately describes the distillation process in action. In the Middle East, arak is a form of brandy made from fermented grapes (which is to say, wine), which is infused and re-distilled with aniseed. It’s one of the first distilled spirits ever made, with roots back to the twelfth century, and is essentially the forebear of other licorice-tinged spirits that made their way around the Mediterranean, such as ouzo, raki and pastis. (Because it’s essentially the ur-liquor, in other parts of the world arak or arrack can refer to spirits made from just about anything—palm sap, rice, sugar cane—and isn’t necessarily anise flavored.)
The anise seed flavoring gives the Mediterranean form of arak a certain sweetness, and traditionally made rougher alcohol more palatable. It’s typically a drink consumed with the meal rather than before or after, and is often watered to an alcohol level not much more than wine. As with other anise spirits, diluting with water causes the solids to fall out of suspension and gives the beverage a milky opalescence.
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