Michael Harden

Most chocolate cocktails, including chocolate martinis, are dumb, gluggy and disappointments.
Most chocolate cocktails, including chocolate martinis, are dumb, gluggy and disappointments. Photo: Damian White

Those of us who like to theme their drinking according to holiday, festival or celebration find Easter a little problematic. For better or worse, chocolate is the default setting and while there may be a certain guilty retro pleasure in a drink such as the Mudslide (vodka, Kahlua and Baileys, either blended with chocolate ice-cream or poured into a chocolate syrup-lined glass),most chocolate-based cocktails (I'm looking at you, chocolate martini) are dumb, gluggy disappointments.

Grown-ups looking for an Easter drink solution might turn instead to arak, a spirit that comes from the same neck of the woods as Easter.

Arak is a clear, colourless anise-flavoured spirit, similar in flavour profile to ouzo. It can be found in many Middle Eastern countries but is most commonly associated with the Levant - Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria and Jordan.

In other parts of the region, arak can sometimes be made from distilling the juice of fermented dates, plums or figs but the Levantine version is made from grapes, preferably obeidi, an ancient Lebanese variety that's a distant ancestor of chardonnay.

Good arak is distilled up to four times (preferably in a traditional copper still) to ensure optimum smoothness and is flavoured with nothing but aniseed. After distilling, it's left to age for at least a year in porous clay amphora that allows some evaporation of the alcohol, a process known in Lebanon as ''le part des anges'' or the ''angel's share''.

Arak is often mixed with water and ice (one part arak to two parts water and ice), something that makes it brilliantly affable with food, particularly the sort of spicy food, flavoured with lots of garlic and lemon, that is common in those parts. This mixing of spirit and water turns the arak a milky white, earning it the nickname ''the milk of lions''.

It also makes for an excellent ingredient in cocktails. It's beautifully refreshing mixed with honey and home-made lemonade,and is a good friend of grapefruit and pomelo juice.

The Dining Hall, a bar and restaurant in Tel Aviv, has a renowned house cocktail called the Habayit where arak is mixed with a muddled combo of grapefruit, sage and sugar that's shaken over ice with a sour mix (sugar with lemon and lime juice), strained into a cocktail glass and garnished with a sage leaf. Nice.

Give it a shot, especially if you're feeling more lion than bunny.