Middle-Eastern Moonshine: Pt. I
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
WOW. I mean, ow???
I absolutely did not expect the gustatory experience I just had. I guess I was naive to think that the illegal spirits of my people wouldn't be as incredibly strong as the figurative spirit of my people - but, what can I say? I'm a lover of the senses, and I explore them all with optimism when I get the chance. Unfortunately, my senses were kinda t-boned in all 5 directions during this. But you get to live that through me rather than endure the pain first hand.
Short backstory: I'm a bibulous person - I like to drink just how I like to eat. Sure it's a part of my character, but the roots come from my family. Persians (definitely Persian Jews) have always included alcohol in their culture. We like to party, and we like to get spiritual - we have been blasting music and doing sword dances with our horses, yelping to the night sky long before Jesus and a bunch of other people were born. And with the help of our rich wines or our ethanol filled moonshine; Persians have been breaking both metaphysical and political boundaries while drunk af in a palace somewhere since Ahura Mazda knows when. It may sound archaic, but it actually turned out to be pretty brilliant (another story for another time). So yes - I enjoy smelling, tasting, creating, and bringing joy to other people by serving them. Many of you may not know this about me, but I used to bartend! - both professionally and for friends at parties, and I loved it all the same. SO. What we're gonna do is this - we're gonna symbolize these two moonshines I got by transforming something that truly felt inedible (and honestly toxic) into something all you and your friends will be craving at future events. And that my friend, is a parallel to LIFE; moments where something abysmal... was turned into something fruitful?... Let's do it.
Today we're talking about aragh. Aragh is Iran's moonshine. Many people compare it to the arab world's arak, but the only similarity they share is in their name. Aragh is actually the strongest moonshine found in the region (and though it is currently illegal to distill, serve, or drink it in modern-day Iran), people are making vats of it in their own backyards. It's made by boiling raisins into pure-ass ethanol:
"While ethanol is consumed when drinking alcoholic beverages, consuming ethanol alone can cause coma and death." - MSDSOnline: https://www.msdsonline.com/2014/04/21/ethanol-versatile-common-and-potentially-dangerous/ (that's right - I got sources).
I have always wanted to drink aragh - just to try it. I heard hellish stories of it when I was a child, but as I grew older, a lot of drinks that people described as hellish were actually really good. I'm the Scotch type, I'm the Whiskey type - I'm honestly the every alcohol type because I'm on of those masochists who enjoy the taste (EXCEPT FOR VODKA. No vodka); but this was THEE national drink of my people..... I had to try it at some point!
Lo and behold, after scouring the internet for one. damn. bottle of this stuff..... a random liquor store 5 minutes away from my house had it in stock. Funny how the world works.
Now Aragh Sagi references two things:
1. Sag means "dog," Sagi means "of or relating to a dog." Take into consideration that calling something doglike in Iran is usually derogatory. So Aragh Sagi was like saying that this aragh is SO strong, that it's made for the dogs in the street. Normal humans WILL go blind. It is not a question lol.
2. Aragh Sagi is actually a brand name of Iranian aragh that was sold with a beagle on the label :) That's it.
So I bought it, I poured 3 glasses for my parents and I. It's normal to take it with ice and dilute it with water (so we did this). The smell alone suddenly made my dad cringe. When I asked him what was wrong, he simply said that this smell just brought back a ton of old memories. That made me laugh - he then corrected himself by saying, these were not necessarily good memories.
Long story short, we *sipped* the damn thing - tryna look like some classy mofos drinking Persian moonshine in crystal glasses while overlooking the Santa Monica mountains. This was not the case. There was bile, there was coughing, burning - fear (plenty of fear), and I immediately started looking for solutions (the Capricorn in me thrives in life-threatening situations).
Time for the aragh life parallel: What is something I've always wanted that turned into a complete failure/disappointment?
The success of my first LP, the Better Mess. As successful as it was, the ending was disheartening. Whaaat a trainwreck. I, as well as many others, put nearly-literal blood, sweat, and tears into this project. I was campaigning for it for months like never before, networking, studying, doing interviews, podcasts, pitching to blogs with playlists - all this for each individual track. I had gotten the most streams from REAL listeners than I had garnered from any other release, new followers on streaming services and social media, new fans connecting with me across the board - then Jan. 1st, 2021 came along and my LP was removed from Spotify.
This was my nightmare coming true.
Frantically, I contacted anyone I could. Spotify, DistroKid, Ari Herstand - no one had clear answers. My music was just gone - indefinitely. I had no idea if I was allowed to even get it back up - and if I tried, if Spotify would remove me as an artist forever. Why did the music get taken down? For two reasons:
1. It was presumably being listened to by bots. Some people host playlists that are streamed by bots. This is very illegal, but a lot of artists don't know it's happening to their music a lot of the time. As I trust the playlists that I was featured on, I believe the actual cause to be below.
2. I'm a relatively unknown, indie artist. When someone like me has a release that goes from 0 to over 14,000 streams, it triggers the system into believing that I'm paying for plays. :/ I'm not the only indie artist that was affected by this, and I could write a whole other blog post on the politics behind these choices - but we're gonna focus on what we can control.
I was shocked, thought nothing of it, figured it was a mistake. Then I was depressed when I found out it was not. I felt confused and hopeless - why did something I worked so hard on, something I wanted so badly thrive in front of my eyes and then fall apart like this? That felt like the universe was just being cruel - BUT AS USUAL, I love the universe, and I know it does things for a reason.
I went into solution mode. How do we fix this.
I'll be honest, I came up with some pretty badass ideas. I was gonna do a re-release a few months from now called The Better Mess (Deluxe Edition), with more songs, a different tracklist, fresh metadata, even changes in the mastering so that the audio files could go undetected, I was prepared to get my work back up legally. I had music set up, I had reached out to producers, new artwork was designed - I spent two days sulking and now I was ready to move forward.
Around a week later, Spotify started doling out information on how to properly reupload your music to their streaming service. So my masterplan was no longer necessary..? I pulled back, still pretty scared of the streaming giant to be honest, and wondered what would be my next move.
Then I saw something - me. I didn't give up. I didn't let the LP just get sucked into a black hole and disappear forever. I got up and asked questions, sought help, became proactive. I discovered persistence and reignited my passion and defended my work. I did not remain silent even if I was scared. I looked for my next move.
The Universe has a habit of dropping into our lives to check on our progress. By this I mean, it does exactly the shit that you're afraid of and/or trying to avoid to see how you've grown. In the past, I may have taken this as a sign that the project wasn't good enough. That it was so generic, some randos thought it only deserved bots. But when customer service of every platform either had no answers or actually refused to answer - I came up with my own.
I never chase my drinks with anything cause I never felt the need to - just like how I don't tend to chase people, I don't chase jobs if I feel it's truly not meant for me. This was the Universe's challenge in my opinion - realizing when you should chase. This LP was meant for me - I was sprinting. And needless to say, I felt the need to chase the aragh as well. We brought some limes when we couldn't find pistachios (that's the go-to Iranian drinking snack) but I stirred it in, kinda like something you may do with lemon and tequila.
Rather than throwing out a whole bottle of mysterious, Persian alcohol I've been fantasizing about my whole life.... I looked for my next move. As soon as I smelled the lime in the aragh, I found it - and I crafted FOUR beautiful drinks out of the distasteful rubbing alcohol my homeland takes so much pride in :')
Here's what I named them:
1 oz. aragh
2 oz. āb ālbāloo (sour cherry juice)
Stir over ice with mint!
If you're looking for a more tart-dry mix:
The Shah's Cocktail
1 oz. aragh
2 oz. āb anār (pomegranate juice)
1/2 peeled Persian cucumber
Muddle the chopped, peeled cucumber at the bottom of your mixer. Add aragh and pom. juice. Shake!
Pour over ice and stir with mint!
(Pomegranate juice over aragh and ice was the famed drink of the late King of Iran. I added the mint and muddled cucumber because it covers the biting scent of the aragh and smoothens the tart-dryness of the pomegranate).
Bāgh e Bābām (My Dad's Garden/Farm)
1 oz. aragh
1 1/2 oz. Sekanjebin
1 egg white
Sekanjebin is one of the oldest recorded beverages of Iran/Persia. We call it a sharbat or "syrup drink" and have a ton of different sharbat flavors. This one is one of the most famous and is essentially a vinegar-mint cooler. We either drink it diluted with water and chopped cucumber, or serve it as a syrup that we dip lettuce in - always enjoyed during the hotter months of the year. :)
I cup water
3/4 cup sugar or honey
1/4 cup white vinegar
1 small bunch of mint
Boil sugar and water into a simple syrup (3/4 cup sugar, 1 cup water).
Once the sugar has dissolved, lower your heat and add in 1/4 cup white vinegar.
Stir and leave to thicken for about 25 minutes.
Taste for sourness & sweetness - adjust it as you wish!
Rinse a small bunch of mint. Then turn the heat off and place the bunch of mint inside the pot so it infuses the vinegar-simple syrup. I usually give it 10 minutes before removing the mint from the pot and pouring into a container that can be placed in the fridge.
Time to bring out your shaker!
Pour in 1 oz. aragh, 1 1/2 oz. Sekanjebin and juice from half a lemon. Shake with ice.
Separate an egg and dunk in only the egg white.
Shake again and then shake a lil' longer. We're fluffin' that egg-white into a gorgeous foam that'll sit atop your cocktail like an old-fashioned Whiskey Sour. It also blends the flavors beautifully.
Pour in a glass, preferably a tumbler if you have one. Add a Mint sprig and peeled/chopped Persian cucumber for garnish!
If you want a simpler version of the recipe above, try a mojito-esque, shaken drink with lime, mint, and a muddled cucumber! Shake with ice.
Turning a bad thing into a good thing is not easy. But it takes creativity, it takes passion, and most of all devotion. If you really want it, if you want to change it, if you want to keep it, you will find a way to do it. If you wanna throw it away... you can do that too.