Arak Bali: Your Complete Guide To The Balinese Drink

In Scotland, they drink Scotch. In the Philippines, it’s rum and in Bali, the Balinese drink Arak.

Arak is a local spirit and is often used as cheap alcohol for alcoholic beverages such as cocktails.

Some people worry that it will lead to methanol poisoning and others swear that it’s completely safe.

So, what’s the truth about Bali Arak? Well, it’s complicated and our guide will break it all down for you.

What Is Bali Arak?

bottle of arak with shot glasses in tropical garden bali

Arak is a traditional spirit in Bali that is derived from the fermented sap of palm trees as well as a mix of grains and fruit. Some say that the flavour is intense, while others say it’s completely vile.

The flavour is often ignored in favour of the high alcohol content and many opt for Arak in their alcoholic drinks when warming up for a big night out in Bali.

Arak is a completely clear liquor distilled for drinking neat or for being used in cocktails.

Perhaps, the most common way to consume it is to add Coca-Cola and then knock it back as you would with any other spirit and mixer combination.

The History Of Arak Bali

Arak has been made here in Bali since the Majapahit Empire (that is between 1293 AD and 1527 AD).

It’s thought that the skills for making Arak arrived with the Mongol Invasion of Genghis Khan in the region (interestingly, Indonesia was one of the very few places to withstand and expel the Mongol Hordes).

This famous drink has thrived in Bali thanks to the Hindu population (whereas Arak production has died out in the rest of Indonesia as Muslims don’t consume alcoholic drinks).

In 2020, Arak as an alcoholic drink was formally legalized by the Governor of Bali and the Indonesian Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology opted to designate it for its cultural significance a year later.

And now Bali signed an official “Arak Bali Day” into law and every January 29, there is a celebration dedicated to this kind of alcohol!

An Arak made from the coconut tree and coconut flowers was offered to guests at the G20 summit in Bali as a representation of local culture.

How Is Bali Arak Made?

Arak farmers will visit their fields of coconut trees twice a day and then tap the trunks, usually twice a day, to collect the sap.

This is then mixed with coconut fibre and allowed to ferment for 2-3 days.

Once the fermentation process is over, the spirit is then distilled for a period of half a day.

An individual field produces 30-45 litres of Arak every 3-4 days.

What’s The ABV Of Arak Bali?

The Arak traditionally consumed here in Bali often forms part of a cheap night out for locals and expats alike and that means, they’re rarely buying premium brands from an expensive tourist market but rather they’re heading to local mini-marts to get whatever’s cheapest.

This means that the ABV (alcohol by volume) can vary greatly and it can even vary within the large barrels in which the Arak is distilled.

You can typically expect Arak to start at 40% ABV but double-distilled Arak could be up to 60% ABV!

Reputable Arak brands have labels that state the ABV. Dodgy Arak brands do not.

Is Bali Arak Safe?

Yes and no. There is good Arak and there is bad Arak. Good Arak is made by reputable companies, it’s regularly tested and has been certified fit to drink. (It is true that a reputable supplier once produced a bad batch but testing has been stepped up and it’s unlikely that history will repeat itself).

This kind of Arak comes in branded bottles with clear statements about the contents on the labels.

Bad Arak, on the other hand, is produced in homemade stills and then sold in plastic bags and plastic bottles.

Now bad Arak isn’t always bad, or nobody would buy it. But it’s the number one cause of methanol poisoning here in Bali and there’s no doubt in our minds that avoiding extremely toxic Arak is a good idea.

How To Drink Bali Arak Like A Local

balinese drinking arak

It’s not hard to copy the locals when drinking Arak. Buy some Arak and a mixer (usually Coca-Cola) from the convenience stores and find a cup (yes, you only need one).

Then, it’s easy. One person takes on the lead role and pours shots of Arak into the glass, they pass the glass to the first drinker, who downs it and hands it back. The next shot is then poured and consumed until the Arak runs out.

Arak plays a big part in the local drinking culture and it’s always consumed like this.

How Can You Tell Good Arak And Bad Arak Apart?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell good and bad Arak apart by looking at them. In fact, you’d need a methanol testing kit to ensure your Bali experience with Arak was perfectly safe.

However, the easiest way to prevent methanol poisoning is to avoid Black Market Arak and buy from a reputable supplier like Hatten Wines, instead.

If you are worried that you have consumed Arak that is contaminated, there are some obvious signs of methanol poisoning in the human body including difficulty breathing, blurred vision, headaches and nausea.

If this is the case, don’t delay – get to the hospital immediately. This kind of poisoning can be treated but the earlier the better.

Popular Brands Of Bali Arak

Arak Bali Dewi Sri

Arak Bali Dewi Sri was the first professional Arak distillation brand in Bali. It was founded back in 1968 in Sanur by Ida Bagus Gotama with the express intent of providing tourists with safe Arak to drink.

The grain used in this Arak is rice and they use a copper still to remove the black glutinous rice from the finished product.

This is a smooth drink with an ABV of around 40%. You will often find this Arak served in hotels and bars as it’s a trusted brand around Bali.

IWAK Arumery

This company was founded by a local woman and it’s a premium brand with an emphasis on double-distillation.

The finished product is infused with exotic fruits and spices and then is laid down to age to ensure a smooth finish.

There are several different Araks made by IWAK and they vary somewhat in strength between 40 and 50% ABV.

Karusotju

This form of Arak adds yam to reimagine the way that Arak is made and it’s aimed at “discerning drinkers”.

The brand has only been operating for four years but has already gained a reputation for a top-quality product.

They have a smoky Arak “Karu 25” and a barrel-aged Arak “Karu 38” which is a little smoother.

They say they want Arak to have the same kind of global recognition as Sake and Soju do now.

Arakbica

This light product seeks to eliminate the black market Arak by buying it up from local farmers, paying them royalties on sales and ensuring that the standards and safety of the shipped product are first-rate.

At 30.6% ABV this is one of the lightest Araks and the 3% infusion of Arabica coffee makes it pleasant enough to drink on the rocks.

Selaka Ning

This Arak uses fermented snake fruit to give a unique flavour profile. It has a lot of natural sugar in the finished product which comes in at 40% ABV.

FAQs

What Is The Arak Of Bali?

Arak is a form of alcohol that is popular in Bali and renowned throughout the island as a unique local product.

What Does Arak Mean In Bali?

The word “Arak” comes from Arabic and it literally means “sweat” but it refers to the “sweat” of palm trees (the sap) not human sweat.

How Much Alcohol Is In Arak Bali? What Is Arak In Bali?

Typically the alcohol content of Arak is between 40% and 60% alcohol by volume.

Which Brand Of Arak Is Best In Bali?

That very much depends on your personal taste, but probably the bet known Arak brand is Arak Bali Dewi Sri because it’s the longest-established brand on the island.

What Is The Strongest Alcohol In Bali?

The strongest (and only) local spirit in Bali is Arak. However, given that imported alcohol is sold freely here, we don’t know if it’s the strongest alcohol in Bali.

What Type Of Alcohol Is Bali Arak?

As with all alcoholic drinks intended for human consumption, Arak contains ethanol.

And assuming that it’s good Arak, that’s all it will contain. However, some dodgy batches of black market Arak have been known to contain methanol which is very dangerous to human health.

Where Is The Best Place To Drink In Bali?

We’re not ashamed to say it – FINNS Beach Club, the best beach club in the world, is the best place to drink in Bali.

FINNS has an amazing oceanfront view, incredible infinity pools to enjoy, nine bars, two swim-up bars, and restaurants and kitchens galore.

One in eight visitors to Bali visit FINNS. A holiday in Bali isn’t complete without a trip to FINNS.

Final Thoughts On Drinking Arak

While most Indonesians don’t drink at all, Arak is a popular beverage, made from the coconut palm, with the Balinese people and there’s no doubt that it’s worth trying while you’re on the island.

The locals even use it in religious ceremonies, it’s that deeply ingrained into their culture.

However, you need to ensure you drink responsibly when it comes to consuming Arak or you can be risking methanol poisoning.

We’d urge you to only buy reputable brands of Arak from reputable stores and to pay a little extra for it. It’s better than becoming a sad statistic while on holiday in Bali.