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Lebanese producers move to protect vital supplies from Syria

Published:  07 July, 2014

Lebanese wine producers are having to take continued steps to ensure the quality of aniseed sourced from Syria to help make the traditonal drink, arak, is not compromised by the continued conflict over the border.

Domaine des Tourelles, for example, Lebanon's oldest commercial winery and producer of Brun, one of the country's most prestigious araks, is continuing to find ways to access the aniseed it needs to make its premium arak.

Brun, like all premium araks, is made with distilled grape juice infused with aniseed grown in the Syrian town of Hina on the slopes of the biblical Mount Hermon. "Hina produces the finest aniseed in the region," said co-owner, Faouzi Issa. "The buds are small and packed with flavor and this is what gives Lebanese araks the edge over many of their regional competitors."

The Syrian conflict has seen the price of aniseed go up, while transporting it is also fraught with problems. "When the war started, we didn't know how long it would last so, as a precaution, we ordered more aniseed than we needed," says Issa. "It turned out to be a wise move."

Brun has also become the first to offer a premium arak. Its five-year-old Special Reserve is aged in handmade clay jars to give it extra smoothness and purity. It is, for example, one of the best selling drinks at Beirut Airport.

Faouzi Issa says Domaine des Tourelles is taking all the steps it can to keep supplies coming in from Syria

Domaine des Tourelles held a special arak celebration day last month with over 300 guests at its historic Chtaura property. The initiative was part of the producer's ambition to position arak among the great drinks of the world. "With the right marketing, arak can become as popular as sake from Japan and tequila from Mexico," claimed Issa. "It is the perfect accompaniment with Lebanese food, so we need restaurants to promote arak as much as they do Lebanese wine and beer. It also makes great cocktails and already bars in Europe have seen its unique potential."

Arak is one of the world's oldest distilled drinks, and the inspiration of the great eaux de vie of the Mediterranean basin.  "The Greeks have ouzo and the Turks drink raki, but arak is the source," says Michael Karam, Lebanese wine writer and author of "Arak and Mezze: The Taste of Lebanon".

"The great Arab chemists perfected the distillation process around the 6th century AD. Arak comes from the Arabic word meaning 'sweat'. It is what is literally 'sweated' from the still."