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Long before Bali’s Bintang beer became a huge hit with tourists, some traditional communities created various alcoholic beverages with different ingredients in them, ranging from sugar palm to coconut sap. Read on for a guide to Indonesia’s traditional alcoholic drinks.
For many cultures, traditional drinks are more than just a pleasant treat on Friday nights. Many use the distilled or fermented beverages as part of offerings or for ceremonies. But nowadays, tourists can make these alcoholic drinks part of their cultural experience. While the rest of the nation is refraining from alcohol due to the Islamic dietary laws, these traditional communities are still producing their unique beverages. Here are some of the most popular traditional alcoholic drinks in Indonesia.
This traditional spirit from Bali is fermented from glutinous rice or sap from sugar palm or coconut trees and was originally used for rituals and traditional ceremonies. But today, anyone can enjoy its unique taste and warming sensation. Arak is also a popular souvenir to bring home and share with your friends. But before you take a sip, make sure you’re buying from a bonafide brand, as there are known cases of lethal contamination or mixing.
Traditionally, brem was used in Balinese ceremonies, sometimes to replace blood. It has an appetizing red color from the ketan hitam, or “black glutinous rice,” used during the fermentation process. Ranging at 3–10%, brem’s alcohol content is lower than its counterpart Arak Bali, making it an equally interesting alternative for those with a lower alcohol tolerance. It also has a sweeter taste with a small hint of sourness.
The Batak community of North Sumatra consumes their tuak during celebrations and special occasions. Tuak is a kind of palm wine, sometimes mixed with dried fruits that give the beverage a sweeter flavor. Until today, tuak was often served at Batak weddings and other ceremonies, and it’s still common to offer a glass of tuak to guests at a Bataknese home.
Ballo is yet another variation of fermented sugar palm sap from Toraja, South Sulawesi. Made almost exclusively from lontar tree, the traditional beverage was originally used for rituals as both an offering for the ancestral spirits and a treat for guests. Other than its 5–10% alcohol concentration, ballo also has a high sugar content, making it rather unsafe for daily consumption, but warming and soothing when enjoyed moderately with traditional snacks. This traditional beverage is best served inside of bamboo.
The discovery of this sugarcane-based wine can be traced back to the history of Central Java as the center of sugar plantations and production during the colonial era. Different localities in Central Java have their own take on ciu, but the traditional alcoholic beverage usually has a sweet taste with a high alcohol content ranging from 50% and beyond.
Made with a long distillation and fermentation process, sopi is a much-loved beverage from Flores, Maluku and other nearby regions in eastern Indonesia. Its main ingredient is a kind of sugar palm that gives it a strong taste with a hint of sweetness. In Flores, sopi is considered a prestigious beverage served on special occasions and to honored guests, making it a symbol of togetherness and celebration as well.
According to a legend from Minahasa, North Sulawesi, saguer was created by the gods. Up until the 18th century, this beverage was considered sacred and therefore could not be traded on the market. This traditional beverage is similar to sopi, but there are different traditions and rituals associated with it, as saguer is often used during ceremonies when moving to a new house.