The steppes of central Asia are the cradle of horse-husbandry. The nomadic peoples that live there are collectively referred to as Mongols. As these steppes are exclusively grassland, the Mongols relied nearly exclusively, until modern times, on their herds of horses and other herbivores to provide sustenance. Horses enabled the Mongols to hunt for game on the steppe, to raid neighboring tribes and periodically throughout history, to terrorize more sedentary civilizations from Egypt to Siam. I am sure that it is safe to say that these invigorating activities were undertaken with the aid of an intoxicating libation known as Arkhi.
Arkhi is an alcoholic beverage which results from distillation of fermented mare's milk called Ariag (alternatively called Kumys, Koumis or Kumis and similar to Kefir). To make Ariag one allows mare's milk to ferment in a skin of leather and stirred occasionally. Yeast is introduced naturally via open pollination. The resulting sour beverage is typically 2% alcohol, is a staple and commonly offered to honor visitors.
To make Arkhi,
"The Kefir is placed in a wok on the stove.
A special vat without top and bottom is placed on top of the wok. In the center of the vat, a collector bowl is connected to a wooden channel leading out through the wall. On top of the vat, a second wok serves as a lid, filled with cold water.
When the stove is fired up, then the kefir vaporizes, starting with the alcohol. The steam condenses when it touches the cold lid, and the convex shape leads it to drip right into the collector in the center. The cold water on top gets replaced twice. The first round gives the highest quality liquor, the third and last round the lowest. The wooden channel leads the condensate into a jar or bottle. The end product has a somewhat caseous taste, with a slightly rancid note. It may take some getting used to, but Mongol Arkhi of reasonable quality is definitively palatable. On the other hand, the result of the third distillation phase can sport a taste as if a herd of goats had been marching through."
The distilled beverage is clear and typically contains up to 10% alcohol. Just enough to get tight but not enough to fall off your horse. Which is a good thing because Arkhi has never been produced for general consumption, unlike Koumis, and can be only readily be obtained only when visiting someone's yurt.
For more dairy products from central asia see krut.
This node was inspired by and partially referenced from The Horse exhibit on display at The Chicago Field Museum until August 14, 2011. Additionally referenced from http://www.mongolfood.info/en/recipes/mongol-arkhi.html