Guide to Arak | Things to know before drinking Bali Arak

Here's your guide to Bali's most favored alcohol, Arak, its traditional spirit. Explore its rich history, cultural significance, and safety tips before taking the shot of Arak

Things to know before drinking Bali Arak

Photo by Charlottes

Bali Arak is the famous alcoholic drink for locals in Bali next to Bintang Beers. Compared to other cities in Indonesia, it is not challenging to purchase alcoholic beverages in Bali; alcoholic drinks are widely available on the island, whether in convenience stores, groceries, or even the local warungs. 

But before trying it, here's what you need to know about this famous drink in Bali. 

Table of Contents

Things to know before drinking Bali Arak

What is Bali Arak?

Bali Arak is a well-known, long-lasting, locally produced alcoholic beverage produced primarily in Bali's Karangasem region. It has been around for hundreds of years and is a popular alcoholic drink in Bali. Balinese drink Arak for various reasons, including warming their body up, medicine, religious rites, and socializing.

History of Bali Arak

In Bali, Arak is essential to social and artistic life that originated from the Majapahit dynasty (1293–1527) and is a tradition among Balinese people. The Mongol invasion of Java brought Arak and shared the knowledge of how to distill it. Most Indonesians follow Islam, less than 2% follow Hinduism, and most of those live in Bali. In Islamic law, drinking alcohol is against the religion, and Arak is mostly only made and drunk in Bali.

Things to know before drinking Bali Arak

Arak Bali

Is Arak legal in Bali? 

Absolutely! Arak is legal in Bali; in January 2020, the Governor of Bali signed a law that made local alcohol legal. It was then named one of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Indonesia by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research, and Technology of Indonesia in 2021. Bali Arak was also picked as a souvenir for people attending the G20 Bali Summit in 2022.

Where can I buy Bali Arak?

Buying Bali Arak is widely available around the island. You can buy from groceries, wine shops, and Indomaret. Most restaurants and warung in Bali also offer Arak in their drink list. 

How much is Bali Arak?

The quality of Arak also plays a significant role; premium or more refined versions will naturally command a higher price. Established bars and restaurants charge more when considering venues than local markets. A 700ml bottle of Arak in a local market could cost between IDR 50,000 to IDR 100,000 or $5 to 10 USD. While a good quality high-end Arak can cost from IDR 700,000 to IDR 3,500,000 or $44 or $220 USD.

What is the best Bali Arak?

Things to know before drinking Bali Arak

Best Arak in Bali

Iwak Arumery is the best Arak in the market. Their blend of the Arak flavors that sell compares to the high-end liquors you'll get overseas. Each taste of the Arak they offer was steep, with local fruits and spices fermented through the years. Although the price is quite expensive compared to other Arak in the market, the taste of hearty liquor is one of a kind. 

How much alcohol percentage is in Bali Arak?

Arak is a fermented liquor with between 37% and 60% alcohol (ethyl alcohol). It has been known in Bali for a very long time. The primary way to Arak is through distilling palm or palm trees, and the volume of alcohol percentage in Arak can vary greatly. 

Is Bali Arak safe?

Generally, it is safe to drink most Bali Arak. Most who tried Arak noticed it smelled like gasoline. Your first shot of Arak may taste awful, but it gets done if mixed well with other sodas. Some Balinese buy Arak on the black market; it's served in plastic bags or recycled water bottles for about IDR 25,000, or $1.74 USD. Be extra cautious about where you are getting your Arak. For that much, it's a cheap night out. But if you talk about Arak with some people, they will quickly tell you all the bad things that can happen with it. For example, "It might make you go blind" or "It killed someone my friend knows" are two possible stories.

Bali Arak, which killed around 25 people in Bali a few years ago, made headlines. Unfortunately, the Arak they purchased was a controlled, taxed, and widely available brand. It's not the type Balinese people often buy on the black market. But this is a one-of-a-kind occurrence that will never be repeated. People have died or gone blind after drinking Arak. Methanol is highly hazardous and should not be confused with ethanol, another term for the sort of alcohol that causes intoxication. 

The production of Arak includes a procedure in which the methanol is filtered, similar to how high-end alcohol ferments their product. Anyone who can create a drink will notice this time. This is not limited to Arak; high-end vodkas and whiskeys also do it. Methanol is produced during fermentation and must be filtered before it is packaged and shipped to stores; similarly, Arak in Bali must be filtered. 

But how do the Balinese drink arak?

How to drink Arak? (In Balinese way)

The older generation of Balinese drinks Arak without any other drink, neutralizing the alcohol. Most younger Balinese generations drink Arak with a mixer, usually Coca-Cola or juice. The locals don't drink Arak by a shot glass but use a single plastic water cup to serve the drink. Another way they drink is by mixing Arak and Coke in a big bottle. 

The host or the person who opened the bottle generally serves everyone a shot of Arak. They have to drink quickly, hand the cup back to Arak to pour another, and give it to the next person. After everyone got their shit, the host or whoever opened the arak bottle usually served himself last. In most restaurants that serve younger generations, their Arak is served mixed with various juice and soda flavors like a cocktail but served in bottles. 

Unwritten rules drinking with Balinese, that if you get the cup passed or served, you must drink it, even if you are already drunk. We think you should try drinking Arak like a local at least once if you haven't already. 

FAQs Bali Arak

How do you know the difference between good and bad Arak?

Unless you buy a methanol testing kit and test every bag, you can't. Also, kits cost about $12 each (one kit per bag), much more than Arak. For that price, you might as well drink something better. In the local news, every once in a while, you can read about groups of two to five Balinese people who died from Arak. As much as I hate to guess, I think it's safe to say that these guys got a bad batch. Also, we should be glad that these batches don't get to the south of the island very often, especially regarding the tourist market.

One place that doesn't follow this rule is Lombok. In the past few years, most of the people who have been poisoned by methanol have been from Lombok, not Bali. Without getting too religious, it's important to note that most Lombok people are devout Muslims. It's not part of their society to drink or make alcohol like it is for the Balinese. Methanol makes it to the last steps of making Arak because the people who make Arak in Lombok don't have as much experience (or knowledge).

Final Thoughts

Ready to try Bali Arak? Socializing with Bali Arak is a great way to enjoy and experience the local culture. If you get invited by Balinese to drink, we suggest you say yes and try.

Just remember to drink responsibly and enjoy!

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