by Darcy O'Neil on December 2010
The spirit called “arrack” is a difficult spirit to locate in some regions, but for a cocktail enthusiast it is a very important ingredient to acquire. In the early days of cocktails it was a popular ingredient and was used frequently by the likes of Jerry Thomas and other cocktail pioneers. It is also important in that Arrack should not be confused with the middle eastern spirit called “Arak”, which is an anise flavoured distillate, more similar to ouzo. Genuine arrack is made from palm sap and is closer in flavour to rum. Arrack is actually considered a type of rum by some people. The other thing that makes Arrack important is that it is used to make Swedish Punch, which is made from arrack, sugar and citrus fruit, and is used in a lot of classic cocktails.
The history of this spirit goes back hundreds of years, but for our purposes arrack became important in the history of cocktails in about 1862 when Jerry Thomas published his book; How to Mix Drinks (A Bartender's Guide). In it he lists a number of drinks that use arrack in cocktails, including Royal Punch and Arrack Punch, which is similar to Swedish Punch. But, on an interesting note, Swedish Punch is a very sweet liqueur, so I believe that Imperial Arrack Punch is the proper recipe (see the end of this article for recipes).
Description of Arrack
Arrack is distilled from coconut sap (called 'toddy'). It is collected from the flower of a coconut tree, which is cut before the flower blooms. The white sap that is collected is extremely high in natural yeast, so it starts to ferment soon after it is collected. The Toddy Tappers (the name of the people who climb the palm trees and collect the sap) gather the sap and place it in barrels, which are sent to central collection points and graded. The product is then distilled in copper stills, and aged in Hamilla timber vats and then diluted and blended according to each producer's specifications. From the Distillers Company of Sri Lanka (DCSL) there are about 9 different arrack based spirits. Of interest is the White Label Arrack which is a crystal clear coconut distillate, which would be equivalent to white rum. Also the Very Special Old Arrack (VSOA), which is considered a premium arrack.
Tasting Note: Premium Very Special Old Arrack
Colour: Golden amber colour similar to a well aged whisky or rum
Aroma: Coconut, vanilla and chocolate. Some of the aromas are hard to place because of the uniqueness of this spirit. It comes across as vegetal to me. As the arrack opens up, after a few minutes in the glass, there is a strong chocolate aroma, like coco puffs.
Palate: Round in the mouth with a rum-ish like flavour, but sweeter and smoother. The coconut and vanilla flavours are present. The finish has a slight woody bitterness, that isn’t unpleasant.
Made in: Sri Lanka
36.8% Alcohol by Volume
Price: $ 25.95
Two versions of arrack are available through the Liqour Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). There are currently (October 28, 2006) about 1000 bottles of the VSO Arrack in the LCBO inventory system for (Cat# 677740) and about 120 bottles of the Old Arrack Coconut Spirit (Cat# 677732, 33.5% ABV).
Swedish punch / Arrack punch:
(Three tumblers of punch.)
Take 2 wine-glasses of Batavia Arrack (old).
3 wine-glasses of Jamaica rum.
Sweeten to taste with loaf-sugar dissolved in hot water.
Lemons and limes are also matter of palate, but two lemons are enough for the above quantity ; put then an equal quantity of water—i.e., not five but six glasses to allow for the lemon juice, and you have three very pretty tumblers of punch.
Imperial Arrack Punch
Take 1 quart of old Batavia Arrack.
1 pound of loaf-sugar.
1 quart of boiling water.
Cut the lemons into thin slices, and steep them in the Arrack for six hours. Remove the lemons without squeezing them. Dissolve the sugar in the water, and add it while hot to the Arrack. Then let it cool. This makes a fine liqueur which should be thoroughly iced before serving.