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Dive Deep Behind Indonesia Traditional Alcoholic Drink, Arak

Dive Deep Behind Indonesia Traditional Alcoholic Drink, Arak

Auli Cinantya
04 March 2022


Arak is considered one of Indonesia's heritage with its long history of existence. Not only as a traditional drink but also a part of a culture that has been inherited from generation to generation.


Arak is not something new for Indonesian or foreigners, especially those who love to travel to Bali. This fermented drink is part of Indonesia’s long history; it is said that the existence of Arak dates back to the Kingdom era.

The French political scientist and rum expert Joseph-Francois Charpentier de Cossigny once praised the Batavian Arak in an account of his travels in 1796. He said that Batavian arak was one of the best liquors in Europe. While J. David Owens, in his book, Indigenous Fermented Foods of Southeast Asia (2014), revealed Batavian Arak production began in Batavia in 1743.

Arak, sometimes spelt Arrack, is a distilled alcoholic beverage, a type of liquor usually produced in Southeast Asian and South Asian countries. Made from fermented coconut sap, sugar cane, grains (e.g. rice, brown rice) or fruit, the ingredient used for Arak depends on the country or region of origin. Arak distillate ingredients can be mixed, stored longer in wooden barrels, or repeatedly distilled and filtered depending on the taste and colour desired by the maker.

The difference between Arak and Tuak, one of Indonesia’s local alcohol drinks, lies in the fermentation process. Although the fermentation medium is the same, the processing of Arak and Tuak is quite different. In processing Arak, the sap must be fermented for 2-3 days; meanwhile, for Tuak, the sap only needs to go through a day of fermentation.

But Arak is not only produced in Batavia. Several areas such as Bali, Lombok, Sulawesi and some locations in Central Java also produce local drinks with a fermentation method such as Batavian Arak.

Balinese Arak is a part of the Balinese culture and its heritage. For Authentic Balinese Arak, it is usually made from Tuak Jaka (palm) and Tuak Nyuh (coconut). For an agrarian society, they believe Balinese Arak is a healthy drink. They usually drink one sip of arak before and after going to the paddy fields because it is believed to warm the body.

Balinese Arak is not only made from fermented coconut juice. Some are made from fermented brown rice. The manufacturing process is usually still traditional and carried out in rural areas. The alcohol content of arak varies, which is 15-20%, and some have an alcohol content of 40%. However, Balinese arak is considered a traditional drink and used for traditional medicine for local residents.

As one of the highly sought local alcoholic drinks, Arak has gone through a tremendous development over the year. Thanks to the advancement of technology, many new brands have emerged, introducing their own distinguished Arak using modern technology and approach; one that succeeds in piquing interest is Karusotju.

Crafted from locally sourced ingredients from Java and inspired by Japanese Shōchū craftsmanship, Karusotju is Arak reinvented. The single-phase distillation technique makes Shōchū able to capture all the good flavours of alcohol fermentation.

Made from yam (sweet potato), making Karusotju starts with cooking the yam, fermenting it, and then distilling to get the right amount of alcohol. It is then finished with a long ageing process similar to the beginnings where arak makers store arak in a traditional clay pot called “jeding” before selling it to customers.

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