The Liquorists Ceylon Arrack Trail

3 Mar

I know, I know, another review of The Liquorists and their trails, but I love them, OK. Every time I rock up, I learn something new about alcohol production or the history of some spirit or another, and see a brilliant idea for food matching or nifty new cocktail combination. Plus, they serve up passion for their craft by the punch bowl and seriously know their shit. Good drink, good food, good people; would you turn a night of free drinks and fabulous company down? I didn’t think so.

On this occasion, The Liquorists teamed up with Ceylon Arrack, a niche and little heard of Sri Lankan spirit, to support them breaking the brand in Britain. The marketing geek in me adores the hyper-localised strategy concocted – launching exclusively in Manchester with the trail I attended and teaming up with bartenders across the city’s finest drinking establishments to create arrack based cocktails – but the booze hound in me is simply stoked that we Manchester dwellers get to sample it first.

Ceylon Arrack Bottle

Ceylon Arrack Bottle

Now, all the big spirits have a tale to tell. Rum and its connection to the slave trade is wholly telling of the liquors history, later romanticised through its connection to piracy and made popular again most recently by the rebirth of the classic Mojito. Gin on the other hand made its name in the 19th century gin palaces of London. Sold cheap in place of unsafe drinking water, its reputation was in ruin upon Hogarth’s characterisation of the spirit in Gin Lane, but has seen a big revival with the boutique gin brands flowering of late.

Keeping with tradition, arrack doesn’t disappoint. Exotically originating out of South Asia, it thought to be the oldest spirit ever recorded, first made mention of during the 13th century in the writings of Marco Polo. Considered in Ancient Ceylon to be the drink of the gods, (compounded by its stint as the exclusive sipping spirit of Sri Lanka’s royal families), it wasn’t long before the good news travelled fast, with arrack becoming a banner term for all distilled liquors during that era of exploration and adventure.*

Naming conventions aside, arrack is something quite special. Made from the coconut flower, its milky sap is coaxed from the coconut tree by toddy tappers, who scale the trees and tap the stem of the flower until the juice is ready for releasing. A skill passed on through generations, the sap is collected in clay pots hanging round the toddy tappers waist, who tight rope walk between the trees until their pots are filled. A true island adventure story (though much more adult and boozy), no?

At Ceylon Arrack, where the same family have been producing the spirit since 1924, the spirit is distilled within 24 hours then aged in Sri Lankan halmilla wood, which gives the arrack a pretty golden hue. With a delicate floral and slightly citrusy nose, giving way to a creamy – reminiscent of coconut, as you’d imagine – taste and mouth feel, this is one seriously elegant sipping spirit, but deceptively so. Its subtle nature means it can be paired with just about anything, which I soon found out to my own detriment.

Starting out at 22 Redbank, we first tried the brand’s bread and butter cocktail – arrack, fresh orange juice, ginger ale and bitters – taking inspiration from the traditional Sri Lankan pairing with ginger beer. Sweet, refreshing, it was perfect pairing for the Sri Lankan curry we ate (for responsible drinking purposes and The Liquorists’ no hangover guarantee policy) before heading out into the night to try more punches and cocktails dreamt up by creative bartenders across the city.

A coconut and pineapple number started proceedings at Apotheca before a brief stopover at Hula, where the Saz-arrack (lolz) brought about the beginnings of the group’s demise. Mixing Ceylon Arrack, cognac, absinthe and cloves, all garnished with a twist of lemon, made for the most potent but perfectly formed cocktail. Followed by the Brewdog IPA and peach bitters combo at The Whiskey Jar and a champagne and elderflower liqueur cocktail at Epernay, you can well imagine the scenes.

Actually, you’ll have to. I was so busy having me a good time, I hardly took any pictures, which pretty much tells you all you need to know. I have ‘borrowed’ a picture of the Ceylon Arrack bottle from their website, just because it’s floral design and pretty pink bottle is a real winner. When it comes to the delicious food (cheese and meat platters abound), excellent tutelage (thanks to Jody of The Liquorists fame) and versatile and wonderfully inventive ways of Ceylon Arrack, you’ll simply have to take my word for it.

Better still, go on a little adventure and seek it out for yourself.

* Not to be confused with arak – or raki – an anise flavoured beverage popular in the Middle East and North Africa.

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One Response to “The Liquorists Ceylon Arrack Trail”

  1. ceylonarrack March 12, 2013 at 11:06 am #

    Reblogged this on Ceylon Arrack and commented:
    Brilliant review on Ceylon Arrack and a play by play of the Trail

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