If you’re in Lanka on business, pleasure or cricket, chances are you’ll be served arrack, an amber coloured intoxicant, favoured by the gentle and not-so-gentle islanders next door. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about it.
1. Arrack predates Scotch and Vodka by centuries. Marco Polo apparently had a tipple in the 13th century.
2. It is not the same as raki from the Middle East, which tastes like liquorice. Or arkhi from Mongolia, which smells like fermented milk.
3. It’s made from the juice of the coconut flower, plucked by crazy men in loin cloths, walking on 40 foot high tightropes.
4. Arrack is consumed at Sri Lankan cricket matches, dodgy bars, nightclubs, office parties by everyone from hipsters to hip replacement patients.
5. It’s best enjoyed with Ginger Ale and a plate of devilled meat. Some have it with coke. No one we know has tried it with tofu.
6. Everyone agrees that frog tastes like chicken. And that arrack isn’t as bitter as whisky, or as sweet as rum. Everyone.
7. There are 791 references to arrack in the novel Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. You can count them.
8. The 1771 recipe for Swedish Punch includes half a pint of arrack. A classic Arrack Sour contains lime juice, ice cubes and a ton of sugar.
9. There are many types of arrack: Double Distilled, VSOA, Old Reserve, Blue and Pol. But the strongest and meanest is Extra Special Gal, a cross between paint thinner and cough syrup.
10. After 2 drinks, you will be eloquent on the subjects of cricket and politics. After 5, you will develop an ear for baila music and will laugh at everything. If you are still awake after 10, you will most likely get beaten up.
Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka is the author of the Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, which won the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize.