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Arak: National Liquor of Bali  

by on Saturday, 21 April 2007No Comment | 9,538 views

Arak, most popular Balinese traditional liquor is distilled tuak (palm beer), and such it has much higher alcohol content than tuak. Arak is clear and colorless, and has a very sharp, biting taste. Since there is no fermentation going on, it can be bottled – in beer bottles– capped, and sold in almost all stores that the Balinese patronize but the bottled arak that is sold freely is low quality arak, for ceremonial purpose only. Arak for consumption purpose is a high quality one and illegal, sold secretly in small roadside stalls, only buyers that are known by the sellers are served.

Bottled Arak

The popularity of arak is understandable since it is powerful and cheap. Arak does not have a pleasant taste, however, and the Balinese prefer to drink it, if at all, mixed with spices to kill sharpness. Spiced arak is called arak mabasa. This spiced arak is often mixed with baby sea horse, baby crocodile, tiger claw, and ginseng. This mixture is as powerful as Viagra. Other good mixtures are arak attack (arak + cola), blue eyes (arak + pepsi blue), ladies’ mixture (arak + soda water + pepsi blue + sprite), and tequila sunrise (arak + orange juice + green sand)

the colorless Arak

Arak is more than liquor, however. It is widely used for medicinal purposes both internally and externally. Balinese traditional medicine involves an enormous number of preparations that are rubbed on the skin not only to relieve aches and pain, but also to affect cures of more serious problems.

Bottled Arak

And arak is universally used in Balinese Hindu religious ceremonies. Typically it is poured from a bottle into a kind of ladle made of banana leaf, called tapan. Holding the tapan in his left hand, the worshiper of Hindu priest wafts the essence of the arak with his right hand, often with the flower held between the fingers, towards the gods in a gesture called ngayabang. Then, shifting the tapan to the right hand, he grasps his right elbow with his left hand and pours the arak on the ground, as an offering to the butas and kalas. This second act is called matabuh, which refers to the spilling of any liquid on the ground as an offering to the lower spirits. The substance poured is called patabuh, the noun form of the word matabuh.

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For use as a patabuh, high quality arak is not needed, and it is usually purchased in village warungs specifically for use of an offering. As liquor, arak will kept indefinitely. A good size ceremony, say a fairly elaborate temple anniversary, might require a dozen or more bottles of arak just for patabuh. Since religious ceremonies are important and frequent, the consumption of arak as a patabuh is quite great and there are areas where arak making and selling is the principal occupation. But the liquor is also distilled in small batches at home stills.

The center for the large-scale production of arak is an area north and a bit east of Klungkung, between Klungkung and Sidemen. All told, there are about 300 stills in this area, located around the village of Talibeng. However, the best and strongest arak come from the Karangasem regency, especially the east coast of Karangasem. Karangasem’s arak api (fire arak) is the strongest arak all over the island.

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