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yields are ridiculously small: 600 horses produce 25 gallons a day. Three, the drink only lasts for three days after it is made. Originally the milk was placed with some yeast in rawhide bags which were strapped onto the horses the nomads rode daily. The bouncing churned the milk. Nowadays it is done using a technique called "bumpingferment" whereby the milk is placed in the leather bag but a wooden stick protrudes from the encasement. This is used to stir the milk 500 times a day for three to four days. On the last day, the number of stirs goes up to 5,000, or until the milk curdles.


To make this 3% ABV drink stronger, two methods have been used. First, freeze distillation. Producers take the Airag out into the snow, letting it freeze and thus separating the water from the alcohol. Another strategy uses a crude still of sorts. The Airag is poured into an open pot, purple wicker or elm branches are placed on top, and a small pot of cold water is added to the stack, inside of which a small jar is hung. The whole ensemble is then placed over a fire. As the pot heats up from the fire, the Airag evaporates and vapors

condense inside the jar. The end result of either method is Arkhi — a beverage with an ABV varying between 10 and 12%. This is often served warm with yak butter. Side note — to alleviate the pains of an Airag/Arkhi hangover, Mongolians have traditionally eaten pickled sheep eyeballs. "Here's looking at you, kid." Harry Haller is an independent consultant focused on working with sugarcane-based distilleries. He can be reached at


Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017  
Artisan Spirit: Winter 2017  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.