English Version
| Tuesday, 16 October 2018 |
Indonesia Version

Merita`s Merry Juice
Wednesday, 01 November, 2017 | 14:50 WIB
Merita`s Merry Juice

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta, 

Balinese Arak`s Time to Shine

The Merita Arak, once consumed only by locals in Karangasem, has penetrated the tourism sector and is now served in Bali's hotels and restaurants. The traditional alcoholic drink has even been exported.

Palmyra trees flanking the streets of Banjar Merita in Labang Sari village, Bali, some 80 kilometers east of Denpasar, seemed to welcome Tempo English last September. The palmyra tree-called ental or lontar in Bali-is an important part of the arak-producing region's landscape. Palmyra wine, or palm juice, is distilled to make arak, sometimes spelled arrack, a drink popular among the Balinese. 

The Merita Arak, often called the 'Karangasem arak' or sometimes 'fire' arak, is well known in Denpasar and has even spilled over to beyond Bali. On the island itself, plenty of hotels and restaurants are now serving the arak in cocktails. The popularity of the traditional alcoholic drink has prompted the liquor industry to export the product. 

Merita's tradition of distilling palm wine is estimated to have begun in the 1700s. Banjar Merita's kelian adat or customary chief, I Nyoman Asih, said locals have been passing on the skill for generations. "Children of arak makers are used to seeing the process every day," he said. 

Currently, 10 households of the banjar's 162 families are continuing to distill home-industry palm wine. The number of arak-producing households has dropped in the course of several decades. In the past, Merita had over 50 arak-maker households. According to I Nyoman Arnama, a village authority, these days, Merita residents prefer to seek their livelihood working in the tourism sector. 

I Nyoman Wartana is among the arak makers who have persisted. When we visited Merita, Wartana was just returning from sapping the palm juice. The 38-year-old man put the juice in a pail in his distillery, a four-by-four meter space behind his home. The palm juice will then go through a distillation process to produce arak. Locals call the process mumpunin. "The palm juice is heated up before distillation," said Wartana. 

It is the lot of the menfolk of Banjar Merita to climb up the palmyra trees to sap the palm juice. Meanwhile, it is the women who process the juice into arak. Wartana's wife, Ni Made Sutini, 33, is the family's resident distiller. 

Each family only needs very simple equipment for making traditional arak in their home: pans, bamboo stalks, bottles, and a clay hearth that uses firewood. In the past, when Merita locals were not yet familiar with pans, bottles, tin cans and jerrycans, clay containers and porcelain jugs were used in the distillation process. Clay pots were used to boil the palm wine while porcelain jugs were used as containers for the condensed vapor. 

That noon, Sutini could be seen boiling the palm juice in a pan on the hearth. When the palm juice evaporated, the vapor went through a hollow one-meter bamboo stalk in a three-hour condensation process. The condensed vapor, or the arak liquor, then trickled into a bottle at the other end of the bamboo stalk. "The slower the drops come through, the better the arak's quality. This batch is top quality arak," said Sutini. 

To produce first-grade arak, said Sutini, a 5:1.8 ratio has to be achieved, meaning five liters of palm juice is distilled to produce 1.8 liters of liquor. "This is equal to three large beer bottles." But one must pay attention to several conditions to ensure that the long distillation process will produce quality arak. One point, the fire for boiling the palm juice must not be blaze too heatedly, but neither may it burn too weakly. The firewood used has to be chosen carefully, either from the cashew tree or the Java plum tree. 

Merita's arak makers also believe that the size of the bamboo stalks affects their liquor's quality. A short one-meter bamboo is considered the right length for producing arak, while longer bamboo strips would produce lower-grade liquor. 

Additionally, they believe the weather has a definite effect on arak quality. Merita's arak makers swear that September is the best month to make top quality palm wine for arak. "Because during the wet season, one can't get good quality palm juice or even any juice," said Sutini. 

In one day, traditional arak makers in the village can produce up to three batches. Each family owns four pans or tin containers, and a pan can on average hold up to 20 liters of palm juice. When boiling palm juice, the pan is never filled to the brim, to give space for the evaporation process. As for firewood, an arak maker can use four logs; each two meters in length. 

Merita residents usually divide their pans into two categories: two to hold the top arak, while the remaining two are to contain lesser grade arak, though the outcome is not necessarily consistent.

Read more inspiring Outreach stories in Tempo English Weekly Magazine


via Facebookvia TEMPO ID


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the comments sections are personal responses that do not represent the editorial policy of tempo.co. Our editorial staff reserves the right to moderate or take down comments that contain harassment, intimidation and discrimination against ethnicity, religion, race, and inter-group relations.