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Massaya Arak


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The Aston Martin DB9 to the Fiat Punto of Pastis. Wonderfully fresh and non-synthetic anise flavours. Drink long with water for refreshment, sip neat and cold as a digestif, or use it in any cocktail that calls for a touch of something liquorice.

Twenty years ago none of this existed. The rise of Massaya is remarkable by any standards and even more so in the context of the bleak and derelict site that confronted Sami Ghosn when he returned to Tanaïl in the early 1990s. Squatters occupied the land, the house was dilapidated, the original vines were neglected and overgrown. But Sami had a vision and a determination to reclaim the property where he had grown up with his brother Ramzi. Returning from the US where he had been working as an architect, he realised he had urgently to reassert his family’s rights and most of all, he wanted to transform this ruin into a centre for high quality wine and arak production.

Lebanon’s civil war forced the Ghosn family to flee the Beqaa and now the brothers were back. Their first task was to revive the distillery and resume the process of making arak. Just a trickle at first, but by 1994 the spirit was flowing in sufficient quantities to go to market. Next came a flash of brilliance, when Sami introduced the long necked dark blue bottle that makes El Massaya arak stand out from the rest. Just like Coca-Cola, a fine product needed a bottle design that would resonate around the world. Massaya, incidentally, means twilight and as the sun sets over the Mediterranean the sky darkens to the same shade of arak bottle blue.
Ambition alone would not transform Tanaïl. Sami and Ramzi, who was in charge of marketing and would in time become the wine maker, recognised that they needed to bring in experienced partners. While the old table grape vines were uprooted and replaced, initially with Cabernet Sauvignon, the Ghosns found help in France. Two highly respected wine makers were invited to Tanaïl in 1998 and both were impressed by the progress and the potential. The support of Dominique Hebrard from Bordeaux and the Brunier brothers Frederic and Daniel from Chateauneuf du Pape proved to be crucial. Their knowledge of terroir and the techniques of blending wines brought a new level of expertise to Massaya which quickly became a recognised name among Lebanon’s producers. Over the next 12 years the business grew and its reputation spread from the domestic to the international market. The range of wines was expanded and the tall blue bottles of arak gained iconic status.
Massaya Arak
Arak has a beguiling aniseed flavour and freshness that cleans the palate and aids digestion. It is often served as an aperitif and then as the perfect accompaniment to classic selections of mezze, the array of tasty dishes with contrasting flavours that is the starting point for many lunchtime or evening meals. Arak works particularly well with the mezze melange that will include olives, spices, meat and cheese – flavours that are sometimes harder to match with wine.
There is a saying in Lebanon – the better the wine, the better the arak. That’s why we take special care to select the finest plump Obeidi grapes that are grown extensively in the Beqaa. The grapes are harvested by hand in September, then mechanically destemmed and gently crushed in a press to obtain the best Obeidi juice.

Then comes the triple distillation process that will transform the wine into El Massaya arak. First, the wine is poured into traditional Moorish lid copper stills where it is heated by gentle fires of vine wood.  As the vapours rise they are carried through copper pipes into the cooling device where the alcohol condenses. After eight hours the process is repeated to remove impurities and leave the heart of the alcohol, the ‘coeur de chauffe’. This is followed by a third distillation of 24 hours that gives the arak its purity and distinction. We combine the third distillation with the maceration of the best green organic aniseed from the village of Hineh on the Syrian slopes of Mount Hermon.

We then collect the non-aged arak in traditional clay amphorae made by the potters in the Mount Lebanon village of Beit Chebab. These are just porous enough to absorb some of the liquid and allow it to breathe. During this crucial resting period lasting many months, the clay lends a faint golden clarity to the matured spirit that will bear the name El Massaya Arak.
There are three simple yet important steps to the arak sensation. First, in a fresh glass pour in the clean white spirit. Then add twice as much water. Finally some cubes of ice. Admire for a moment the transformation into an aromatic cloudy white creation - and taste. If you are drinking arak as an aperitif we recommend diluting the spirit by as much as six parts water to one of arak.

Massaya Arak (1 measure)
Amaretto (2 measures)
Rose water (1 measure)
Cream of coconut (2 measures)
Elderflower cordial (1 measure)
Shake well with ice until thick
consistency and strain
into a glass with ice
Garnish with floating star anise,
lavender and an orange twist
Massaya Arak (2 measures)
Freshly squeezed grapefruit (3 measures)
Shaken with fresh thyme
Strained over ice in a shortball glass
Decorated with thyme,
and a long orange twist
Massaya Arak (1 measure)
Peppermint syrup (1 measure)
Water (3 measures) 
Poured into a glass of crushed ice
and decorated with mint leaves and
a slice of lemon or lime
Massaya Arak (1 measure) 
Mulberry syrup (1-1.5 measures)
Water (3 measures)
Two thin lemon slices
Decorated with blackberries
or any other black fruit
Massaya Arak (1 measure)
Vodka (1 measure)
Jallab (1- 1.25 measures)
Decorated with raisins
and pine nuts
Massaya Arak (2 measures)
10 medium mint leaves
Two 1cm thick slices of lime
Two heaped teaspoons
of brown sugar
Topped up with soda 
Decorated with a slice of
lime and a sprig of mint
Served in a glass of crushed ice
Bourbon (2 measures)
Massaya Arak (1/2 measure)
Topped up with ginger ale and
soda water in even quantities 
Decorate with fresh mint
Poured into a glass with ice
Massaya Arak (1 measure)
Creme de cassis (2 measures)
Decorated with an orange twirl
Poured into a glass with ice
Type Liqueur
Country Lebanon
Region Bekaa Valley
ABV 53.0%