For centuries, the nomadic people of Tuva, a remote region of Russia just north of the Mongolian border, have turned the milk from their herds into yogurt, kumis, and dried balls of kurt. From this same tradition comes araga, Tuvan moonshine distilled from fermented sour milk.
Brewers make araga with a homemade still called a shuuruun, which is crafted from the hollowed-out trunk of a poplar tree. This cylinder is set inside a large pot over the stove and sealed off at the top with a container of cold water. As the fermented milk, or khoitpak, heats up at the bottom of the pot, the steam trapped inside produces condensation, which slowly trickles out of the shuuruun’s long spout. The result is a clear, sour liquor of about 5 to 20 percent alcohol that tastes milder when warm. Additional distillations will produce stronger stuff, known as dan zarya.
Araga is considered a special drink, enjoyed at celebrations and used in rituals. It’s mostly meant for elders in the community; according to old Tuvan custom, a man had to be married before he could enjoy a sip.