I was first introduced to arrack a few years ago, when it fueled the final hours of a childhood friend’s wedding reception. Sri Lanka’s signature spirit is usually strong and dark; it’s a little sweet, not unlike a marriage of bourbon and rum, but with a stronger, burning kick and a mysterious bouquet.
Arrack is made from only two ingredients: water and the distilled sap of unopened coconut flowers from the Sri Lankan coconut palm. (Sri Lankan arrack, by the way, is not the same as arak, the anise-based drink popular in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and it’s not Batavia arrack, the Indonesian spirit distilled from sugarcane and red rice.)
The tall, dignified coconut palm is one of Sri Lanka’s enduring visual motifs, but it’s also a foundation of life there. All of its parts find a use: the trunk, leaves, and coconut shells make boats, roofs, fishing rods; coconut innards yield nutritious water, the milk and vinegar that fuels countless Sri Lankan dishes, and stronger libations—the younger coconut moonshine called toddy and the aged, refined arrack.