Arak, Bali’s traditional spirit, is a local libation that has been around for generations used in both ceremonies and celebrations across the island. Originally an island moonshine of sorts, produced by arak farmers using age-old methods, it is supplied to the local arak scene from their home-based distilleries. The Balinese Government has officially announced that 29 January is recognised as Hari Arak Bali (Bali Arak Day).
Although official arak producers, such as the pioneering Arak Bali Dewi Sri established back in 1968, there has been an underlying stigma about arak to domestic and foreign visitors due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of this local spirit. In recent years, however, arak has gradually come to the limelight and become more recognised by visitors to the island.
In a Governor’s decree back in 2020 (Surat Edaran Gubernur Bali Nomor 1, Tahun 2020), arak was made legal, boosting the surge of officially licensed production that secured better health and hygiene of the product. Licensed homegrown brands have since embraced the new industry, elevating the spirit in both quality and image, taking it in a similar culture to craft gins or craft sakes, and creating bespoke products that are representative on an increasingly international stage.
Arak’s stamp as the traditional spirit of Bali was also further boosted by the Governor of Bali, Wayan Koster, when it was decided that January 29 will be known as Hari Arak Bali in accordance with the Decree of the Governor of Bali Number 929/03-I/HK/2022. This date also marked when the Bali Governor Regulation Number 1 of 2022 concerning the Management of Balinese Fermented and/or Distilled Drinks came into effect, in which the decree provides protection and legality to Balinese arak producers such as MSMEs and cooperatives.
Through Balinese Arak Day, Wayan Koster hopes that it will remind the public to love and appreciate their ancestral heritage, considering the process of producing Balinese Arak requires special skills that not everyone is capable of. The public should, however, keep in mind that Hari Arak Bali is aimed to celebrate the craftsmanship of arak, its artisans and farmers, and raise public awareness to increase the value and dignity of Balinese arak – not to be interpreted as an excuse to get intoxicated.
According to Koster, there are at least 28 products that resulted from the creativity and innovation based on Balinese arak, which has been marketed since 2022. These processed products based on Balinese arak have obtained distribution permits from BPOM (National Agency of Drug and Food Control) of Indonesia and excise bands from the Bali Provincial Customs Office.
With the establishment of Bali Arak Day, it is hoped that it can be a catalyst for other Indonesian provinces to see the potential for development, specifically concerning the archipelago’s fermented spirits such as tuak from North Sumatra, sopi from Flores and Maluku, ciu from Central Java, swansrai from Papua and ballo from South Sulawesi, and the importance of the preservation of these local spirits.
In 2021, NOW! Bali produced a mini-documentary on the traditional arak farmers, focusing on the challenges they face through the continuation of this arduous and dangerous cottage industry — now celebrated as the ‘spirit of Bali’: Watch the full video here:
To find out more about arak, read our feature on The Arak Farmers of Karangasem.