Ceylon Arrack, a spirit native to Sri Lanka, is reviewed by Steve Crotty.
Approximate price £23 – 27
I bought this on a whim, a flight of fancy if you will. I simply wished to try something that I had never tried before, a new drinking experience to further improve my knowledge of all things booze. This, as you probably realise, is as unpredictable as playing Russian Roulette with somebody who has Full Body Tourette’s. You may end up with a new wonder to cherish and imbibe your friends with. You may also end up with nothing more than a harsh example of it being best to stick to what you know. Before I let you know of my results, let me first hit you with some background information, as I assume that you will be as clueless about this as I was.
Ceylon Arrack is distilled in Sri Lanka, with the story of how it is made being as interesting as the drink itself. Ceylon is a coconut Arrack, meaning it only has one core ingredient: the coconut flower. Other Arracks add fruit and grain but not this. Every morning, men climb to the treetops of the coconut tree to collect the sap from the unopened flower. They traverse between different trees using a tightrope system that must require a shot of something strong as encouragement to do so. Once collected, the liquid will naturally ferment of its own accord due to a high concentration of sugar and yeast. It is then aged in what the bottle describes as traditional Sri Lankan Halmilla wood before bottling. It doesn’t say how long for, but then we are not dealing with snooty whisky here.
For all of you wondering how the Sri Lankan’s get away with doing this in what is considered an alcohol-free Islamic state, the answer is simple. As it is made from coconut sap and nothing else, it sneaks through a loophole in Islamic anti-alcohol law, which forbids the use of fruit or grain, but makes no mention of sap. Those crafty people at Rockland! (Please refer to the comments from our esteemed readers below – Editor).
The spirit is clear, although comes in a delightful orange glass bottle that gives nothing away. Initial impressions on the nose are good, the aroma not throwing any curveballs by allowing a delicate perfumed bouquet of flowers to permeate the senses. I’ve never smelt the coconut flower, but if I did I imagine it would substantiate this aroma completely. I will dock it points however for having no discernible hint of the oak it has been aged in. I know, I know, it’s not a whisky, but what was the point of barrelling it if it doesn’t have any trace of the barrel?
Perfume is the main theme for the taste too. Perfume and hot alcohol, a cloying combination that does this drink no favours at all. The closest thing I can think of that shares similar traits is badly made gin. Not being a gin fan this is not really my area of expertise, although the heat of the underage alcohol I would recognise as unwelcome in any drink. There are no other flavours to speak of (still no oak) and it doesn’t really linger on the palate, it simply does its business and wanders off without stopping to converse.
I have tried it in a variety of different cocktail formulae and I found it to go best either with lemonade or some form of tropical fruit juice. It did make an interesting and tasty Pina Colada when I substituted it for rum, but merely interesting and tasty in that I couldn’t really taste any alcohol. It’s too muted for its own good; the only real semblance of alcohol present was the heat.
On balance I wouldn’t buy this again as it’s not worth the money it costs in this country and has too many faults to make it a genuine alternative. However, I’m not annoyed that I bought it. As I mentioned earlier trying new drinks is a metaphorical flip of a coin in terms of success, and I would never have known had I not been bold enough to challenge myself to something new. As it is though it will be drinking the rest of the bottle with large amounts of lemonade to try to dilute that damn heat, and the potent perfume taste that I didn’t care for. My esteemed colleague Matt Cottom described this as sounding like ‘oak-conditioned gin’ when I told him about it. I think that’s succinct enough to be apt. Oak-conditioned gin anyone? Didn’t think so.