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Indonesian Arak

By Guest Contributor: Lisa Virgiano

Indonesian Arak, is a type of distilled alcohol that is classified differently from other more commonly known distilled alcohols coming from Central Asia and the Mediterranean region. Indonesian arak has a unique after taste, depending on the source material, producing region, and the way it is made. It can be produced from fermented nectar of coconut blossom, toddy palm blossoms, sugar cane, grains (rice is the most common one), or any exotic fruits with a high sugar content.

The most renowned arak liquor of Indonesia is produced traditionally in Karangasem East Bali using toddy palm blossoms from mature trees aged between 8 and 12 years through a special process known as tapping. Successful tapping requires a well-honed technique; the tapper must slice the surface of the blossom at a particular angle and depth with a specially designed blade. The process of tapping is not only tricky to master but also very risky.  

Skilled tappers climb palm trees of up to 30 metres in height, without safety equipment, in order to tap the palm blossoms. During the tapping process, they can often be attacked by insects which have also been attracted by the sweet-scented blossoms.  

Nectar tappers typically climb palm trees twice a day, depending on the season. The quality of nectar is usually better but lower in quantity during the dry season. Natural ingredients such as dried coconut husk are added to the fresh and fizzy palm nectar to create a strong acidity level. Most producers even leave the fresh nectar in containers for several days before starting the distillation process, so as to achieve a more sour aftertaste.

Distillation of arak involves traditional methods, such as placing terracotta or stainless steel pots under a wooden fire stove. Bamboo pipes are connected to each terracotta pot to channel the vapours of the distilling compounds, a process that usually last approximately 8 hours for 5 litres of liquid.

Arak has been a favourite among nobility in Indonesia during religious activities or post war celebrations starting from the 7th century. Primarily introduced by the Chinese, the reign of the traditional spirit continued during the colonial period until the 18th century. The taste of Indonesian arak is defined by many elements, with nature and craftsmanship playing dominant roles; the characteristic taste of arak also varies from region to region, with different levels of alcohol involved; and of course not forgetting the pleasure of sharing it and drinking it together with friends. About Lisa Virgiano: 

Lisa currently serves as the Brand Director of Kaum, an authentic Indonesian restaurant by PTT Family. To her, gastronomy is the greatest privilege in life. She frequently travels around the Indonesian archipelago to develop relationships with many tribes of Indonesia, collaborates closely with small-scale and responsible food producers, researches indigenous ingredients and flavours, and is helping to revive primitive cooking techniques that are near extinction. She has fallen in love with Blue Batak coffee and adores spear fish hunting with the sea gypsies of Bajo tribe in Wakatobi islands.

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