Photos: Distilling nostalgia for Persia’s Arak spirit in Canada

Long before its teetotaler Islamic clerical rulers banned the consumption of alcohol, Iran had a vibrant drinking heritage. In fact, as early as 550 BC, King Cyrus the Great and his Persian lawmakers were said to get drunk before deliberating important decisions and then debate them again the next day while sober. If they still agreed, the new law was passed. It spawned the Persian saying "Masti O Rasti," meaning "drunkenness and truthfulness." The motto is printed on the backside of the bottles of "Arak Saggi," a top-notch triple-distilled Arak created by an Iranian ex-pat in Canada looking to resurrect his homeland's alcohol culture.

Updated On Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST
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Bruce Khabbazi (C) at his distillery in Peterborough, Canada. “I was looking for something extraordinarily unique and I found the slang of a traditional popular Arak,” said Khabbazi, a 50-year-old Iranian-Canadian entrepreneur who established the Persian Empire Distillery in 2006. “I felt the need to give this drink an identity as well as originality. My task became Introducing Arak Saggi to the world as a classic alcoholic drink of Iranians.” (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

Bruce Khabbazi (C) at his distillery in Peterborough, Canada. “I was looking for something extraordinarily unique and I found the slang of a traditional popular Arak,” said Khabbazi, a 50-year-old Iranian-Canadian entrepreneur who established the Persian Empire Distillery in 2006. “I felt the need to give this drink an identity as well as originality. My task became Introducing Arak Saggi to the world as a classic alcoholic drink of Iranians.” (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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An employee checks the alcohol distilled from raisin paste. Khabbazi ‘s most prized concoction is his Arak Saggi, a liquor made of raisin paste imported from California that has a taste similar to grappa, the Italian grape-based brandy. Traditional Arak — the translucent, white and anise-flavored liquor similar in taste to the Greek ouzo or Turkish raki — is very popular in the Middle East. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

An employee checks the alcohol distilled from raisin paste. Khabbazi ‘s most prized concoction is his Arak Saggi, a liquor made of raisin paste imported from California that has a taste similar to grappa, the Italian grape-based brandy. Traditional Arak — the translucent, white and anise-flavored liquor similar in taste to the Greek ouzo or Turkish raki — is very popular in the Middle East. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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Bruce Khabbazi points to an image of an original bottle of ‘Arak Saggi’, or Doggy Arak, that was produced in Iran in the 1950s. Born in Shiraz to a family with more than 125 years in the food industry, Khabbazi fled Iran at age 16 to avoid fighting in the Iran-Iraq war and because he said he saw no future for young Iranians after the revolution. In Canada, he changed his name from Behrouz to Bruce. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

Bruce Khabbazi points to an image of an original bottle of ‘Arak Saggi’, or Doggy Arak, that was produced in Iran in the 1950s. Born in Shiraz to a family with more than 125 years in the food industry, Khabbazi fled Iran at age 16 to avoid fighting in the Iran-Iraq war and because he said he saw no future for young Iranians after the revolution. In Canada, he changed his name from Behrouz to Bruce. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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88 proof alcohol is distilled at the Persian Empire Distillery. Khabbazi hasn’t been back to Iran since fleeing in 1987, though he hopes to visit one day. When he first got his liquor license in Canada, Khabbazi said he was told that “Persians are Muslim, and they don’t drink…This was to me a lack of knowledge about Iranian culture,” he added. “I noticed a big challenge ahead of me and planned to prove them wrong.” (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

88 proof alcohol is distilled at the Persian Empire Distillery. Khabbazi hasn’t been back to Iran since fleeing in 1987, though he hopes to visit one day. When he first got his liquor license in Canada, Khabbazi said he was told that “Persians are Muslim, and they don’t drink…This was to me a lack of knowledge about Iranian culture,” he added. “I noticed a big challenge ahead of me and planned to prove them wrong.” (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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Bruce Khabbazi serves Arak Saggi to a man in a traditional Iranian "Qashqai" nomadic clothing, at the Arya Nowruz market in Toronto. His first product was pomegranate liquor. He now showcases three brands with the combined 40 products, which are available in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

Bruce Khabbazi serves Arak Saggi to a man in a traditional Iranian "Qashqai" nomadic clothing, at the Arya Nowruz market in Toronto. His first product was pomegranate liquor. He now showcases three brands with the combined 40 products, which are available in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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An oak barrel holds aged ‘Arak Saggi’. Alcohol consumption is forbidden under Iran’s Shariah law and it is illegal for the majority of Iranian Muslims. The crime is typically punishable by lashes and cash fines. Still, bootleg alcohol can be found in underground markets. Iran’s National Emergency Services says 27 people died last September and more than 300 were hospitalized after drinking tainted bootleg. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

An oak barrel holds aged ‘Arak Saggi’. Alcohol consumption is forbidden under Iran’s Shariah law and it is illegal for the majority of Iranian Muslims. The crime is typically punishable by lashes and cash fines. Still, bootleg alcohol can be found in underground markets. Iran’s National Emergency Services says 27 people died last September and more than 300 were hospitalized after drinking tainted bootleg. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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Bottles of Arak Saggi being filled. Iran has a rich history in wine making. Six clay jars were discovered by American archaeologists at a site in the Zagros mountains in Iran in 1968 and chemical analysis on one of them revealed that a dark stain at the bottom was wine residue. The jars date back to the Neolithic period more than 7,000 years ago and provide the first proof of wine production in the region in antiquity. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

Bottles of Arak Saggi being filled. Iran has a rich history in wine making. Six clay jars were discovered by American archaeologists at a site in the Zagros mountains in Iran in 1968 and chemical analysis on one of them revealed that a dark stain at the bottom was wine residue. The jars date back to the Neolithic period more than 7,000 years ago and provide the first proof of wine production in the region in antiquity. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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The back label of an Arak Saggi bottle in Toronto. The 1979 Islamic Revolution put an end to that tradition of liquor making and sent the liquor culture deep underground. For several years, Armenians were the main distributers of home-made Arak in Iran until the foreign-labelled bottles started to be smuggled in. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)
Updated on Oct 30, 2019 12:51 PM IST

The back label of an Arak Saggi bottle in Toronto. The 1979 Islamic Revolution put an end to that tradition of liquor making and sent the liquor culture deep underground. For several years, Armenians were the main distributers of home-made Arak in Iran until the foreign-labelled bottles started to be smuggled in. (Kamran Jebreili / AP)

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