A little over five years ago we attended a release party hosted by Jamal Hassan for his release of The Mediterranean Exploration Company’s Oregon Arak, distilled and bottled in partnership with Bull Run Distilling Company. This event represented the intersection of a bunch of local favorites for us. For starters, we have long admired Hassan for his creative genius (the La Yapa cocktail continues to see regular rotation in our house). M.E.C. is a fantastic restaurant here in Portland, Oregon where Hassan had setup the bar program, and Bull Run Distilling is just one of several prominent local spirit producers. So, what is this Arak product?
We had read about Arak for years before we first encountered it in a cocktail during our first visit to M.E.C. back in 2015. That drink was the Arak Frappe, a simple concoction that mirrors the Absinthe Frappe and is an approachable introduction because Arak has a flavor profile akin to absinthe. Arak is an anise seed infused grape distillate with east Mediterranean origins. This puts it in a category with ouzo, sambuca and french pastis, though Arak is not sweet. The frappe is a frozen style, so some sugar helps bring out the flavor of the spirit against all of that ice.
1 oz arak
.5 oz simple syrup
.5 oz water
Add water and simple syrup to the spirit in a shaker, then add about a cup of crushed ice and shake until very cold. Pour unstrained into a small glass adding more crushed ice if needed to fill the glass. Garnish with a whole star anise.
One of the first things you notice with this drink is the louche effect. This normally clear spirit contains the dissolved essential oil from star anise that is only soluble in alcohol. As you introduce water, it lowers the concentration and the essence of the anise precipitates into microscopic droplets forming a cloudy emulsion. We have read that if you add ice first and then dilute, these droplets can separate into inconvenient layers. That’s more of an issue when just sipping the spirit in traditional style and not really a problem for the frappe since we are shaking. But adding the water first will induce the louche effect before the ice and may improve the results.
Our bottle of Oregon Arak is not the original expression but a special bottling that was laid down in clay amphorae, rested to perfection before bottling. This uncommon practice adds some old-world authenticity by way of Andrew Beckham’s incredible terra cotta winemaking and brewing vessels. We have met Andrew and toured his winery to witness the production process of these huge containers. Frankly, we are not sure what is more impressive, the clay pots, his wine, or this delicious spirit that uses them. We don’t have another bottle to compare, but we do know that we have something special in the cabinet and we intend to enjoy it. While other cocktail recipes exist, the frappe allows the full expression of flavors of arak to shine.