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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica
Rack or RAK, a generic name applied to a variety of spirituous liquors distilled in the Far East. According to some authorities the word is derived from the Arabic arak (perspiration), but according to others (see Morewood's History of Inebriating Liquors, 1834, p. 140) it is derived from the arecanut, a material from which a variety of arrack was long manufactured, and is of Indian origin. The liquor to which this or a similar name is applied is (or was, since the introduction of European spirits and methods of manufacture is gradually causing the native spirit industries on the old lines to decay) manufactured in India, Ceylon, Siam, Java, Batavia, China, Corea, &c., and its manufacture still constitutes a considerable industry. The term arrack as designating a distilled liquor does not, however, appear to have been confined to the Far East, as, in Timkowski's Travels, it is stated that a spirit distilled from koumiss ( q. v. ) by the Tatars, Mongols and presumably the Caucasian races generally, is called arrack, araka or ariki. In Ceylon arrack is distilled chiefly from palm toddy, which is the fermented juice drawn from the unexpanded flower-spathes of various palms, such as the Palmyra palm ( Borassus flabelliformis) and the cocoa palm ( Cocos nucifera). At the beginning of the 19th century the arrack industry of Ceylon was of considerable dimensions, whole woods being set apart for no other purpose than that of procuring toddy, and the distillation of the spirit took place at every village round the coast. The land rents in 1831 included a sum of (35,573 on the cocoa-nut trees, and the duties on the manufacture and retail of the spirit amounted to over £30,000. On the Indian continent arrack is made from palm toddy, rice and the refuse of the sugar refineries, but mainly from the flowers of the muohwa or mahua tree ( Bassia latifolia). The mahua flowers are very rich in sugar, and may, according to H. H. Mann, contain as much as 58% of fermentable sugar, calculated on the total solids. Even at the present day the process of manufacture is very primitive, the fermentation as a rule being carried on in so concentrated a liquid that complete fermentation rarely takes place. According to Mann, the total sugar in the liquor ready for fermentation may reach 20%. The ferment employed (it is so impure that it can scarcely be called yeast) is obtained from a previous fermentation, and, as the latter is never vigorous, it is not surprising that the resulting spirit contains, compared with the more scientifically prepared European spirits, a very high proportion of by-products (acid, fusel oil, &c.). The injurious nature of these native spirits has long been known and has been frequently set down to the admixture of drugs, such as hemp ( ganga ), but a recent investigation of this question appears to show that this is not generally the case. The chemical constitution of these liquors alone affords sufficient proof of their inferior and probably injurious character.
See H. H. Mann, The Analyst (1904).
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Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Rack Arrack'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/bri/r/rack-arrack.html. 1910.