Getting the measure of... Ceylon Arrack

In the 13th century, Marco Polo wrote of arrack "It is extremely good, and inebriates faster than the wine made from grapes,” proving that there was more to the explorer than just travelling the globe and inventing t-shirts with collars. But what is arrack? And what specifically is Ceylon Arrack? And how did Marco Polo come to taste it all those centuries ago? The answers to two of these questions lie ahead...

Arrack is a spirit very similar to rum in flavour, made from either the fermented sap of coconut flowers or sugarcane, along with grain or fruit. There are many different types, including Special Arrack, Molasses Arrack and Batavia Arrack, which I have also tried and just might get to covering in a separate article at some point in the future. Maybe.

But the eagle-eyed among you will have already spied that this post is all about Ceylon Arrack, which is produced from the sap of the unopened flowers of a coconut palm, i.e. the flowers which would have eventually become coconuts. We all knew that flowers become coconuts, right? Sure.

In order to get this sap, workers known as ‘Toddy Tappers’ move between the tops of the coconut palm trees using an astonishingly daring technique not unlike tightrope-walking. It’s essentially the most dangerous method of collecting tree sap I can think of, but to be honest I don’t know of many others and I haven’t considered the process for long. Besides, this traditional method has lasted since the dawn of time (citation needed) so I’m sure it has proven to be extremely effective, otherwise these men would have stopped risking their lives years ago.

Rockland Distilleries, who now produce Ceylon Arrack, and who are also responsible for the truly excellent Colombo No. 7 Gin, age the spirit in Sri Lankan halmilla wood casks, which ‘calms’ it without adding any additional flavours. This is a pretty unique process because, unlike aging whiskey or cognac in wood to give it extra character, the focus here is on the natural flavour and character of the initial liquid, with care taken not to affect that in any way.

The result is a complex spirit that tastes like a fruity rum or cognac with hints of floral notes. In Sri Lanka, it is often consumed mixed with ginger beer, but I’m assuming that none of you have arrived at this page expecting just that. So here are a few cocktails I created instead.

Toddy Tapper Tipple

2oz Ceylon Arrack
1oz Lemon Juice
1/2oz Pineapple And Cardamom Syrup
1 dash Chocolate Bitters
Egg White

Method: Shake all ingredients without ice, and then again with ice. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with bitter drops.
First up, I needed a drink that capitalised on the tropical flavours of the arrack, plus I’m a huge sucker for this pineapple and cardamom syrup that I made. To make it, dissolve 100g of caster sugar in 200ml pineapple juice over a gentle heat. Add 3 crushed cardamom pods, bring to the boil and then take off the heat and leave to infuse as it cools. Then fine strain.


2oz Ceylon Arrack
1/4oz Triple Sec
1/8oz The King's Ginger Liqueur
1/8oz Vanilla Syrup
3 dashes Orange Bitters

Method: Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Express and garnish with orange peel.
Here’s my ‘grown-up’ drink (there’s usually one in each of these kinds of posts). The point of this was to just add small flavour enhancements, but overall let the arrack do the talking.

Polo's Nectar

1.5oz Ceylon Arrack
1.5oz Harry Brompton's Black Tea With Peach
1oz Velvet Falernum
3/4oz Lemon Juice
1/2oz Orgeat Syrup

Method: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a saucer. Garnish with lemon peel.
Lastly, I had been dying to use this non-alcoholic tea mixer in a cocktail, and the flavours just lend themselves well to the exotic nature of the arrack. Overall, this becomes a complex but really refreshing cocktail that is either a ‘sipper’ or a ‘guzzler’ depending on your self-control.
As is standard practice for these articles, please visit the Ceylon Arrack website for a more trustworthy source of information.

Tags: Ceylon Arrack, Arrack, Rockland Distilleries

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