People have been producing liquor since they first discovered that a) water is important but it can probably kill you, and b) it had a funny effect and made you giggle. Most of it was accidental, especially wine and beer. However, a distillation is premeditated and requires patience, equipment, space, and eventually a grown-up palate.
Going to Israel for the first time when I was 18 introduced me to the wonders of Arak, an anise-flavoured liquor high on the proof scale, meaning it’s a minimum of 40%. My friend Steph and I arrived at an empty hostel in Tiverya (Tiberias) in the north of Israel run by a Moroccan Jew, who was sipping on a glass of Arak.
At this point, I was all about the anise. I quickly succumbed to the fat man’s invitation to join him on the patio for a drink, pleasantly surprised it tasted like its Hellenistic cousin, Ouzo, however his was cloudy.
It turns out when you mix Arak with about 2/3rds water, the oil of the anise isn’t water soluble, making it cloudy. Add some ice and you have a nice sipping drink and a flushed face.
South Eastern Europe and the Middle East are rife with a history of distillation of whatever they can get their hands on, bringing me to…
[Shl-EE-vo-vitza]; [RA-kee-ya] The infamous plum brandy that has Slavic Europe up all night dancing, despite whatever wars have ravaged their regions. Sharp, intense, and boozy, rakija has a long history and a brutal taste unless you have the infused versions. The harshness of this liquor honestly doesn’t stop me or anybody else from drinking it. Think Balkan brass band, playing to the tune of Orkestar šlivovica, a dimly lit bar or courtyard, full tables but empty chairs, and a smile on everyone’s face. You can get your hands on the most popular version of šlivovica from Croatia at Co-op, but finding a Balkan brass band in Calgary might prove to be a little more difficult.
Both liquors are distilled, translating to time and patience. The outcome can be harsh on several levels: flavour, the morning after…. but many people prove to still be alive and not blind after an evening of such horrid/delicious tasting booze. And in their respective tongues I’d like to say
L’Chaim, Fisehatak, Živeli, Na Zdravje!