After visiting Achziv, we stopped off at Mi’ilya – an Christian Arab village – on our way back home. For a really long time I’ve been wanting to see the Arak Masada factory which was so near. At last we entered Mi’ilya for this very purpose. For those unfamiliar with this alcoholic beverage, arak is an anise-flavoured liquor that is quite popular in the Middle East. We turned into one street, drove about, turned back around and I asked directions. We were in the wrong area. We continued and then, after more asking and more searching, we found the factory! Hidden in a fenced area in the industrial section of Mi’ilya, the factory in a modest third of a warehouse, sandwiched between two other industrial operations.
We arrived just after closing and were told to come back. We did, the following morning, one of my sisters also tagging along. I greeted the owners, brothers Wadia and Jeryis Hadid, with “sabach al-chir” (“good morning” in Arabic) and after words of greeting and introduction, Jeryis began to show us around the modest factory.
The two Christian Arab brothers teamed up with a Lebanese man named Shukri Al-Hayak who, after serving in the Israeli-operated South Lebanese Army, found refuge in Israel after the IDF withdrawal of 2000. The trio then went ahead and began to produce their own arak, based off the Lebanese recipe that Shukri brought with him.
Their arak distilling process goes as follows: First, grapes are poured into vats and stirred for several hours daily. Instead of pressing or squeezing the grapes, the stirring slowly breaks down the grape skin and the juices flow naturally. After twenty-something days in the vat the fermenting grapes are then brought to a boil, the vapourised juice rising up and making its way into the little pipe, as seen below:
The juice then travels along inside a pipe, inside a long vat of cold water, and eventually drains out the far end, and into containers. Anise is then added to the liquid and the distinct taste of arak is born.
The arak is then put into large containers and is stored above the bottling station, where a hose is led down to release a whole new batch of ready arak to the market.
Arak Masada makes three types of award-winning araks: Alwadi, Kafroon and Jabalna – and we tried them all. The premium label, Alwadi, happens to be my favourite and while I don’t really like arak, I found the Alwadi to be rather flavourful and not just a powerful mouthful of anise. The Alwadi arak is uniquely triple-distilled and costs nearly twice as much as the others. The Kafroon, the second best, is also flavourful – however in a very different way, and the Jabalna tastes pretty much like regular arak. How the taste varies so much is beyond me, but each label tastes a world of its own in an anise galaxy.
These upcoming weeks are when the grapes are coming in and so, before we left, Jeryis asked us if we wanted to come help with the grapes (they need Jewish workers handling the grapes). I couldn’t attend, due to my demanding army position, but my sister decided to test it out and bottling arak there with a friend. How cool is that, to be able to boast that one once made Lebanese arak in a modest little factory? Definitely my kind of thing…
For those interested in visiting the factory, here is their site (available in Hebrew, Arabic and English).