Arak – The Balinese Spirit
Tourists visiting Bali always find the island intoxicating, especially for those who try the locally brewed traditional alcohol, arak. Arak, Bali’s pride and joy of spirits, is a colorless and sugarless beverage, distilled from palm sap or rice, with a 20 to 50 percent alcohol content. With its high alcoholic content, arak drinkers do not need long to begin feeling its effects kick in.
Arak-intoxicated tourists went so far as to coin the phrase arak attack, now adopted as the name for a popular cocktail consisting of orange juice and arak as Prodita Sabarini explains.
“The phrase ‘arak attack‘ first emerged in the 1980s when Australian tourists tried our local drink,” local arak producer Fa’Udiyana spokesman Wayan Sila Sayana said.
The sudden and intense effect of the alcohol content in arak felt like an attack, hence the term ‘arak attack‘, Sila said.
He said the term had helped the local spirit gain its reputation among tourists.
“People get curious when they hear the term ‘arak attack’, and are often eager to try it,” he said.
A liter of arak will cost around Rp 20 or 30,000 in stores in Bali, making it a favorite of spirit-drinking tourists who often maintain arak as their choice of booze throughout their stay.
Arak can be mixed with “a variety of other drinks, even with lemon juice or honey … it still tastes good,” Sila said.
Balinese local Gus De said for him, arak was preferable to whisky.
Arak attack and arak madu are a mix of arak, water, honey and lime juice and are two popular arak cocktails among tourists.
Michael Goodwin, an Australian expatriate, said he drinks arak socially with Balinese friends.
“It’s a social drink,” he said.
For Balinese, the traditional drink is closely related to religious ceremonies.
Local Balinese men will drink neat arak at cockfights and ceremonies. Arak is deliberately spilled on the ground to honor Dewi Sri, the Goddess of rice.
Originally a drink used for religious ceremonies, arak production in Bali began in home industries.
Currently, there are at least three licensed companies and a host of other unlicensed producers making arak for sale.
Police have cracked-down on unlicensed arak production after an incident in 2004, in which seven Balinese men in Buleleng regency died after consuming arak.
Sila said some home industries did do not use proper methods to produce arak.
“To increase its alcohol content, some add methanol, which is very dangerous,” he said.
Komang Sumiasih, owner of a small arak shop in Sanur, said not all home made arak producers were like that.
She said her shop’s arak supply was provided by her family’s own home industry in Karangasem, which was started by her grandmother.
Komang said her family had failed to receive a license from the government due to their business being relatively small.
“We are very proud of this drink. I’m continuing a family business and preserving a Balinese tradition,” she said.