Tourist Tip #16 / Arak, Israelis' 'Lion's Milk'

A favorite among Israelis, the anise-flavored aperitif Arak packs a punch thanks to its high alcohol content.

If Israel had a national beverage this potent-smelling drink could be it. Traditionally also served in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Syria, arak is the quintessential Middle Eastern spirit. It comes in a clear, colorless form and has a high alcohol level that is typically between 30-60 percent.

Historically prepared in villages, this anise-flavored aperitif is made from grapes and aniseed, with the latter being added during the second stage of distillation. Similar variations exist elsewhere, such as pastis in France, ouzo in Greece and raki in Turkey. The popularity of this licorice-flavored tipple is on the rise, and in recent decades several arak factories have sprung up. Nowadays, there are numerous brands and varieties available for a thirsty consumer to choose from.

Although it’s clear in color, arak quickly turns a cloudy white when water or ice is added, earning it the moniker “lion’s milk.” The most common method of serving it is with water, and aesthetics dictate that the water must be added first, as the sudden chill caused when the spirit comes into contact with ice causes an unpleasant film to form over the surface of the drink.

Arak is very versatile, and popular mixers are usually grapefruit juice, or “limonana” – a refreshing lemonade and mint combination that’s especially popular in the summer months.

As one of the most affordable drinks on the market, arak has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years and you’re likely to spot it all over the place. But be warned: With its pungent smell and dominant anise flavor, people are firmly split over whether they love or hate it. If you find that you fall into the second, you can always used arak in its more old-fashioned way – by rubbing some on your belly to cure indigestion. Just be prepared to smell like the drink for a bit afterward.