Last updated on September 5th, 2017
Welcome to the island of Bali!
Today, I am going to talk a little bit about some traditional Balinese drinks. Well some drinks are age old, very old, and steep in our culture. Others are more mundane and of recent tradition… but all will quench your thirst.
Some tea and coffee grows on Bali. But most of what you will find is from Java. Try the local Kopi Bali. The best is to ask a local village roaster who can grill the beans to your taste. Organic coffee is also available. Balinese ayurvedic tea has its virtues and there are many variations of local recipes of Balinese herbal teas and tea blends with plenty of locally grown good stuff: ginger, lemongrass, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, lime etc.
I start with Bali brem, which is often translated as “rice wine”. This slightly alcoholic beverage is sold everywhere, to both locals and tourists. No doubt you have seen their little hip shape sexy bottles that come in tiny baskets of twos and threes, with shiny golden stickers boasting of their virtues. As a matter of fact, Bali brem is often used in Hindu religious ceremonies. Well you can sprinkle Bali brem as offerings to placate Bhuta Kala. You’ve also seen statues and carvings of Kala everywhere in Bali. Big teeth, big eyes, big mouth, eats a lot… rings a bell? These fellows have quite an appetite and can cause all sorts of trouble so better add what they like best such as spoilt vegetables, meats and other decaying foods…
It’s not very difficult to make Bali brem, so I’d rather use my grand auntie’s family recipe. The swill tastes much nicer than the industrial plonk and you know what goes in it: steamed black glutinous rice (although you can mix with white glutinous rice according to taste), yeast and water. Simple no? It’s basically the same ingredients all over Asia. Cook the rice, put the yeast, pasteurise some more, let it ferment a bit in a jar lined with banana leaves. The longer you wait the stronger the brew… About 10 degrees of alcohol is about right…
Sometimes I drink it a room (or outdoors air temperature), sometimes with a few ice cubes. Natural, nothing added.
Some guys mix Bali brem with the stronger and supposedly tastier Tuak or Arak, but I would not advise it, especially if you don’t know there the Tuak or Arak was made. I don’t know about you but I like to keep my wits about so I stay clear of Arak that might be contaminated by added methanol… Anyway, chances are you won’t like the “spices” that go into Tuak and Arak, so do as Bhuta Kala and stick to Bali brem (in moderate quantities as you don’t have his absorption capacity).
Beers in Bali
Aside from tea and coffee, beer is probably the most popular drink. There are three main contenders: Bali Hai, Bintang and Stark.
If you are a drunkard, you have probably been strutting around the southern beaches of Bali proudly wearing a Bintang Beer t-shirt (and maybe even an assorted pair of shorts). I seldom go there, except on an absolute urgent business and if I have no other choice. Well, I could write a lot about the heathens of the southern beaches (I am from the hills of Bali, closer to our Gods).
Bintang (or “star”) is totally drinkable, although not brewed in Bali (but in Java). It is a basic pale lager or pilsner that tastes pretty much like a Heineken… In case you wondered, it’s owned by Heineken… so much about being a local beer. But true, it does have a local taste, and has been around since Dutch colonization. The beer is hugely popular and must be a real cash cow for its owners.
Bali Hai sounds more Balinese, but it’s not brewed on our island either. It’s a cheap local alternative to Bintang. And with enough ice cubes and a blind fold you can’t really tell the difference… Many Balinese prefer Bintang but I suspect because it is more widely advertised as a higher quality product. On a warm day, I would just get any fresh beer available!
Stark Beer has not been around long and may not stick around long either. But it’s good stuff. It’s not a lager, it’s a white/wheat beer. Brewed on the north shores, Lovina and Singaraja. It uses local spring water, and maybe truly has a bit of Bali in it. Stark is unfiltered, so it’s got this pale distant look with quite a bit of deposit at the bottom. The beer is fruity and favourably compares to a Belgium Hooegarden! I’d like to drink more Stark but it’s a little expensive and hard to find at the local warung.