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Brem: Balinese Sweet Wine  

by on Thursday, 24 May 2007No Comment | 2,337 views

Brem, sweet rice wine that is usually found in traditional markets or roadside stalls large Bintang beer bottles is one of three popular Balinese liquors – other are arak, and tuak. Like arak and tuak, brem is in addition of being a beverage, a necessity for matabuh (offering liquid for bhuta kala, evil spirit, demon, etc) in almost all religious ceremonies. Very large quantities of it are made and used for that purpose. This is usually low grade, homemade brem, and it is often mixed with water. It is a pat of custom in some areas in Bali to bring a bottle of brem or two as a present for the family that hold a religious ceremony or as an offering in a temple anniversary.

Brem is made from glutinous or “sticky” white rice, known as ketan in Balinese, and a smaller amount of Indonesian black rice, called injin in bali. Both ketan and injin are less commonly used in cooking than common white rice, baas. The sticky ketan is made into various Balinese traditional cookies for offering and other religious purpose. The black injin, is made into delicious traditional dessert (jaja injin) by cooking and serving with brown palm sugar and coconut milk. Since injin is rather expensive, only enough is used in brem to impart the desired final color.

A typical individual brem maker who sets out to brew the wine for sale locally or patabuh starts out with about a kilogram and a half each of injin and ketan. The rice is soaked in water until it is very soft, about two hours, and then steamed in the usual way. After about one hour, the rice is removed from the steamer and stirred in hot water. This keeps the rice from drying out and is normal procedure when steaming any kind of rice. It is then returned to the steamer and cooked for another hour or so. The cooked rice is then dumped out into a shallow, woven bamboo box, in which it is allowed to cool. Yeast, ragi, purchased in little cakes, is broken up and sprinkled on top of the rice.

Finally, the damped mixture of the rice and yeast is transferred to a hemispherical bamboo container about half a meter in diameter, lined with banana leaves (penyaipan). Fermentation takes place over the next three days, and the brem drains out through the loosely woven bottom of the container into a pan. Three kilograms of rice yield about two bottles of brem. The solid remaining are called tape and sold at the market.

Some high quality brem are sold in restaurants and hotels mostly for tourist. Foreigners like to drink it over ice or mixed with arak, to take the sharp edge of the latter.

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