Bali’s Favorite Liquor, Arak!

Arak is a distilled alcoholic drink favored in the Middle East. Commonly used in social settings, the drink is famous for its potency, and the milky-white color it turns when water is added to it. Arak has a high alcohol content, so water and ice are almost always added, producing the drink nicknamed “the milk of lions,” in the Middle East. Arak is typically made from grapes, though dates, sugar, plums, figs, and molasses can be used depending on the region where it is made. Though Arak in its pure form is colorless, the clear liquid is aniseed-flavored. Aniseed is added to the distilled alcohol during the second of three distillation processes. The ratio of aniseed to alcohol can vary which results in different qualities of arak, but the strength of the drink usually falls between 30%-60%.

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Those who know arak by name will likely already know it by its reputation too. Most of us longer-term Bali residents have had a night or two out involving arak. The stuff is quite awful tasting, but mixes well and does the trick. Better yet at rp 15,000 or about $1.50 per bag (yes bag, 600ml of arak is sold in long plastic bags that have been tied at the top) it can be a pretty inexpensive night out as well.Mention arak around some people though and they will be quick to tell you of all the dangers of arak. You might hear “it will make you go blind” or “it killed a friend of my friend”, among many other stories. To be fair, these aren’t just rumors. A few years back, over 25 people died on Bali from a single batch of arak. The scary part was this was the type that was regulated, taxed and sold in stores, not the traditional kind the Balinese drink.3

The traditional variety is made mostly on the east side of the island in Karengasem. Some villages even specialize in brewing arak, Bali’s own version of moonshine. Balinese love their arak and drink it often with friends or after ceremonies, with it usually being drank in turns from a shot glass with Coca-Cola already mixed in.

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