Arak is the name of the local alcohol that has been produced for centuries and plays an important role in Balinese society because it is much more than banal alcohol for the Balinese as you will learn through this article.
The word arak comes from Arabic and means sweat. It is found in particular in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Iraq but it should not be confused with the arak found in Bali.
Arak: The traditional liqueur in Bali is the most popular and distilled with palm, coconut, or rice sap and has a much higher alcohol content than Tuak. Do not be fooled by appearances because with its light color the arak contains between 40 and 50% alcohol and it has a not very pleasant and strong taste. The one made traditionally can be found encapsulated in beer bottles in small Balinese stores while those produced under very strict hygiene rules can be found in supermarkets. Arak suitable for consumption is only of high quality, its popularity stems from the fact that it is very potent and inexpensive.
There are different mixtures of arak and some tourists in Bali like, here are a few:
– arak Mabasa: this arak is often mixed with ginger, other strange ingredients and this mixture seems to be as powerful as viagra
– arak with coca-cola
– arak attack (arak + orange juice)
– blue eyes (arak + blue Pepsi)
– arak Madu (arak + honey and lemon)
But in fact, arak is much more than alcohol, it is often used for medicinal purposes. Traditional Balinese medicine included many preparations with arak. Beyond the aspect of healing this alcohol is also used for Hindu Balinese religious ceremonies and in this case, it is of poor quality: composed of 70% water. It is poured from a bottle to a kind of ladle made of banana leaf and called a Tapan. The arak will be poured after a very small ritual on the ground to appease the demons, as a kind of offering for them.
MANUFACTURE OF ARAK
It takes approximately 10 hours to boil and distill the premium arak. First the palm sugar is collected in a barrel filled with balls to facilitate fermentation since it is left in for 1 or 2 days before the distillation process begins.
Arak producers use a wide variety of traditional and modern equipment like coconut trunks, steel barrels, bamboo, and stainless steel pipes to extract fresh arak from boiling palm wine. The first container of coconut is filled with fermented palm wine and boiled over a wood fire to maintain heat and steam. It is connected to the second drum by a bamboo tube or a stainless steel pipe. This second drum contains water to cool the arak in order to prevent the heat from giving off a burnt taste. Finally, the arak will be distilled in a plastic container of 30 to 45 liters.
Alcohol levels vary depending on the amount of palm wine processed and the length of distillation. An alcohol meter, a numbered stick-shaped tool, is used to check the alcohol level. An arak grower just needs to place the alcohol meter on the surface of the arak and it will float to show the alcohol level. The first grade is 50%, but most of the time it is produced at 20% for daily use. It takes three to four days to make 30 to 45 liters of arak, which is estimated between Rp. 150,000 to Rp. 400,000.
THE ARAK PROBLEM
It is especially in the east of Bali that we find the small villages producing arak. Let us tell you the story of the Tri Eka Buana village located in Sidemen.
In this village, we don’t even remember how long arak was made there, except that it has been produced there for many generations. Over 90% of the 600 families who live there are peasants and arak producers. Unfortunately, in recent years there have been concerns about the arak produced by irresponsible people who mix the arak with other containers such as energy drinks, mosquito repellant, or even methanol which is painless but volatile, easy to burn, and used for example for glue, synthetic textile, gasoline. Why they add such dangerous products is to amplify the effects of alcohol in drinks. And such a dangerous mixture has, of course, consequences which have a heavy price: temporary or permanent blindness or even death.
Due to some accidents caused by this arak mixed with the methanol produced by some irresponsible people, the police have therefore put in place strict rules for the producers of arak to ensure that their alcohol is not contaminated by other dangerous substances. They must also limit their production of arak to their village and can only sell their arak to surrounding villages in the district of Sidemen even though their biggest buyers are outside this area. The villagers producing arak accuse the irresponsible of being the cause of their misfortune. They have been making arak for hundreds of years and they have never heard of people dying because of their arak, so they find it unfair to have to endure the dire consequences for their industry because of bad people. playing with the lives of others with their adulterated arak.
This incident dramatically reduced sales of traditional arak. The villagers now raise livestock and work in the construction industry for additional income.
The production of arak is more and more controlled in order to avoid accidents that could end tragically.
The effect of arak has more of a drug effect rather than a drunken effect and if you drink too much arak you risk having weird dreams. The Balinese say that the Rangda witch visits them when they abuse arak.