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Friday Happy Hour: Raki

Photo courtesy of
‘Efe Raki’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

Welcome to the Friday Happy Hour, your single drink primer for the weekend.

Ah, the aniseed! Like cilantro, it has a taste you either love or hate. Absinthe, sambuca, pastis, raki are all anise-flavored spirits that inspire devotion or downright hatred. Me? I love licorice. So you know what side I fall on. Recently the mysteries of one of these aniseed derived drinks was revealed to me at Agora, the new Turkish restaurant on 17th Street NW in Dupont Circle. The charming bar manager, Ismail Uslu, was kind enough to let me sample some raki, Turkey’s official national drink. It was a fascinating experience and one I hope you’ll share.

But what is raki exactly? Like ouzo and grappa, raki is produced by distilling the solid remains of fruit after it’s been pressed, commonly raisins, figs, or grapes. Then it’s flavored with aniseed. Raki can be drunk straight (called “sec”), in which case it’s clear, or diluted with cold water, which turns it milky white. Ice cubes can also be added after dilution according to personal preference. Agora stocks six raki of different styles and distillation levels so you can sample several to see which one you prefer. I tried Efe, which is triple-distilled from grape remains.

Ismail showed me the traditional way to serve raki. Two glasses were placed on the bar, one with plain raki about a third of the way full, and the other with water. From a separate pitcher he poured chilled water into the raki which resulted in the magical transformation known in Turkey as “the lion’s milk” – turning the raki that beautiful opaque color. Then he placed a bowl of ice cubes down for me to add as I liked.

“It’s a slow drink,” he said, “sip some raki, then some water. It’s not like shots.” Continue reading