The party scene in Bali is thriving, with a new spot to hit every night!
Unlike other Indonesian cities, finding alcohol in Bali is easy, with beverages sold in most mini-marts and stores. You will even find imported alcohols!
Arak is an iconic, traditional, alcoholic drink, commonly produced in the Karangasem regency of Bali.
It has been around for centuries, and is considered a great souvenir for tourists visiting the island.
Balinese locals often drink arak to warm their bodies as medicine, or as part of a religious ceremony – and of course for just drinking.
Interested to know more? Keep reading!
What is Arak?
Arak is a distilled alcoholic, typically produced in Southeast Asia or South Asia.
It is usually made from the fermented sap of sugarcane coconut flowers, and grain or fruit, depending upon the country of origin.
Bali’s arak is made of the fermented sap of coconut, or palm, trees. The alcohol content ranges from 20% to a potent 50%.
Arak is a clear liquor, that is usually drunk neat or made into a cocktail.
The most common way to drink arak is to mix it with a mixer like Coca-Cola. Often just one glass is passed between friends.
You can also find cocktails made of arak in restaurants, bars and clubs – just be careful with the smaller establishments.
The History of Bali Arak
Arak plays a socially and culturally important role in Balinese society. It has a local heritage from Balinese ancestors dating back to the Majapahit era (1293-1527). It is believed that it was the Mongol invasion that brought arak and distillation technology to Java.
As you probably already know, most Indonesians are Muslim, with less than 2% practising Hinduism – of whom nearly 90% live in Bali.
Since Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol, arak is almost exclusively made and enjoyed in Bali.
In January 2020, the Governor of Bali signed for the legalisation of the local liquor. This was followed by its designation as one of the Indonesian Intangible Cultural Heritage by the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology in 2021.
Bali arak was even chosen as one of the souvenirs for the attendees at the 2022 G20 Bali Summit.
The Making of Bali Arak
Pure arak is made from various ingredients, depending on the natural resources and characteristics of the village of arak artisans.
The most commonly used ingredient is the sap of coconut or palm trees. Arak farmers will tap coconut trees twice a day, and collect the sap in large barrels.
Once collected, the sap is given coconut fibre, and stored for fermentation for two to three days.
After the fermentation period, the sap’s alcohol content increases, changing the taste and texture. It is then distilled for approximately 12 hours.
It takes between three to four days to make 30 to 45 litres of arak.
Is Bali Arak Safe?
During the process of making arak, there is a point when the methanol produced needs to be filtered out. Not to be confused with ethanol (the only type of alcohol we humans can safely drink), methanol is extremely toxic to the human body. This is not unique to arak, as the same process happens to top-shelf vodkas and whiskeys.
Bali arak, still containing methanol, has caused both local and tourist blindness, even deaths, from methanol poisoning.
Many illegal arak manufacturers selling on the black market add methanol to their arak to make it stronger. A sip of methanol-contained arak could result in temporary to permanent loss of vision, or death. This is why you should always be vigilant about where you get your alcohol in Bali.
If you find the prices to be strangely affordable, it’s better to go somewhere else.
But, don’t let it discourage you from trying the local liquor.
Now that the local government is more involved in its production and distribution , the governor’s decree requires the manufacturers, distributors, and sub-distributors to obtain a legal permit prior to doing their business. This will hopefully stop illegal arak distribution on the black market, and ensure the ones available in shops are of high quality, and safe to consume.
So, what do you think? Are you still interested to try arak?
It’s a great way to have some fun, while also experiencing the local culture.
Just be wary of where you get your arak, as anything too cheap should raise your eyebrows. Treat yourself to some good times, and enjoy your arak!
Featured image: Arak