The Spirit of Sri Lanka

Regarded as one of the oldest distilled spirits in the world, arrack is produced using different ingredients from coconut flowers to sugarcane, grain, rice or fruit such as dates and raisins in different parts of Asia. In the lush island-country Sri Lanka, home to tens of thousands of coconut trees, arrack is produced from the sap of coconut flowers.

The beginnings of Sri Lankan arrack is traced to many centuries past as ancient Sri Lankan literature as well as narratives of medieval travellers and traders mention `liquor drawn from the coconut flower’ and `coconut tree wine’. And its time-honoured traditional technique has been honed to produce premium arrack that unveils distinct aromas, tastes and character that delight connoisseurs of fine spirits.
The Toddy Tapper’s Effort
The beginning of arrack production starts with a toddy tapper nimbly climbing a towering coconut tree. He locates a coconut flower bud, taps it to stimulate the flow of sap, ties it near the end, cuts its end, and then places an earthen pot at the end into which the flower droops and steadily drips out sap. The toddy tapper then makes his way to the next coconut tree; however, instead of climbing down the tree and up another tree, he tightropes his way to the next tree with the help of two ropes (one for placing his feet and the other to hold) affixed across tree tops.
The toddy tapper returns the following day in the cool of the mornings, removes the pot into which the sap has slowly dripped. He then lowers the pot to the ground, where it is collected by another man who pours in to a collection a vessel. Meanwhile, the toddy tapper holds on to the ropes and moves on to the next trees. In this way, he collects sap from different trees.

Rockland Ceylon Arrack

Rockland Ceylon Arrack

The Role of the Distillery
The 100% natural sap contains natural sugar and thus starts to ferment naturally by the action of wild airborne yeast and turns into fermented toddy which reaches approximately 7.5% ABV. “For producing premium arrack such as Ceylon Arrack the toddy is delivered at the earliest to the distillery where it is filtered, column distilled and poured into vats of Halmilla wood, sourced from the indigenous Sri Lankan tree Berrya cordifolia, for resting and allowing its notes to mature and age” says Amal Wijeyeratne, Managing Director, Rockland Distilleries, a family owned company founded in 1924 that pioneered the commercial distillation of natural coconut and produces the premium Ceylon Arrack and other quality arracks.
Unlike wine, whisky and brandy which take on character from the wood they are aged in, distilled arrack being full of flavours only needs its flavours to mellow and be enhanced by the wood. For this reason, Ceylon Arrack is rested in timber vats of Halmilla wood that is dense and allows the arrack to age without overpowering its inherent aromas. After ageing, the arrack is blended (as the flavour of arrack depends on factors such as climate and location of the trees it is tapped from) to create premium arrack of consistent flavours. The production process thus yields a 100% natural coconut spirit
A Versatile Spirit
Distilling and resting the arrack results in fine, smooth arrack.” Ceylon Arrack is light amber, sunset colour, smooth, and has a nose of floral notes with a hint of coconut and honey with a gentle and smooth finish. It is 40% ABV”, says Amal. He adds that the drink being complex and unique is enjoyable by itself with a bit of water, on ice cubes or blended in a cocktail or a punch.
Arrack is widely used in cocktails and punch due to its versatility and ability to enhance and be enhanced by other natural flavours. The word punch is believed to have originated from the Hindi world panch that means five. It alludes to the five ingredients – arrack, sugar, lime juice, spice and water –that were traditionally used make the drink. So it is that the simple toddy tappers efforts of collecting the sap from the coconut flowers, the efforts of the team at the distillery, and the skills of the master blender create a drink that captures the spirit of Sri Lanka and is enjoyed across the world.
Visitors to Sri Lanka can buy Ceylon Arrack at wine stores and supermarkets, and taste it at most hotels and restaurants. Distillery tours are also possible by contacting Rockland Distilleries. http://www.rockland.lk/


Posted: February 17, 2018
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