• Anna Genders

What's all the fuss about drinking spirits in Bali and why are spirits so expensive?

Updated: Oct 3, 2019


Always buy up your full duty-free allocation!(1 litre per travelling adult coming into Indonesia)


Why you ask? The Indonesian government has placed a huge tax on any imported alcohol into the country, meaning if you go to a supermarket or bottle shop hoping to buy yourself a nice bottle of Absolute. Midori or Baileys, you’ll get the shock of your life! The import tax on alcohol is nearly 200-300% making any imported spirits into Bali horrifically expensive! That’s why drinking safely in Bali can be expensive and also challenging.


Many months ago when I was in Bali, I became quite ill after drinking a cocktail from a well-known tourist establishment. In the sixty-plus visits to Bali, I have NEVER been sick, so I highly doubt if it was anything else apart from one of the spirits used that made me really really crook. Before I had even finished the drink, I knew something was not right and within 15 minutes I was violently ill. This post simply a warning to people to be careful when drinking in Bali especially when you actually don’t know what is going into your drinks. If you’re not sure….THEN ASK OR ASK TO SEE THE BOTTLE!


People have the mindset that drinking in Bali is cheap.....it can be cheap, but I promise you if you’re drinking cheap cocktails you’re likely drinking locally produced spirits and in most cases Arak(locally produced version of vodka). These can be so dangerous as a lot of Arak production is not regulated and in many instances are not produced correctly which can lead to alcohol poisoning(which I have now experienced this first hand🤮) Many people will complain that some of the high-end bars are really expensive in Bali. Yes, they are....and the reason is that they are paying nearly 200-300% duty on the imported spirits that they’re using to make your drinks! With so much demand for “ Cheap Holiday Cocktail Drinking” and venues pressured to keep up with constant 'Happy Hours', many venues will resort to using local spirits where they can in-place of some of the imported spirits. These are often not made in factories and are not regulated, therefore it's possible you’ll incur a ‘dodge batch’ like I did a few months ago.


Unfortunately, there have been so many reports of dodgy Arak contaminated with methanol and causing severe illness, or even permanent blindness. It’s recommended to avoid this drink completely, since there is no guarantee it can be drunk safely. Arak, actually an Arabic word, is used as a generic term for a variety of spirits in many cultures. In this instance, we're referring to the locally produced alcohol in Indonesia. So when a bar says their cocktail is a base of 'vodka' it's most often that it's made from Arak which can sometimes contain methanol (also found in paint thinner, wiper fluid, etc); a highly toxic form of alcohol that causes blindness, coma, and death.


How Is It Made?

Arak can be distilled from coconut palm sap, sugarcane, coconut, or less frequently, red rice. In Indonesia, arak is the local equivalent to moonshine and it can vary widely in strength and toxicity. Because production is largely unrelated, the only way to test a new batch for safety is to drink it. Poor production techniques is often the reason why this drink will result in serious illness. As little as 10 mL of methanol can cause blindness; the average lethal dose is only 100 mL. Commercially branded arak can be purchased from shops and minimarts throughout Indonesia, but homemade varieties and even these commercially produced options can still be incredibly dangerous. Arak also contains between 30-50% alcohol and because of its inconsistency, its hard to measure and keep track of how much alcohol is in your system.


And whilst I’m ranting about drinking safely, this is the exact reason I created Cocoloco in Bali A service that offers cocktails to be made in your own villa only using the safe spirits you have purchased yourself from duty-free before arriving into Indonesia! The service started at the Saudara Villas, but now is offered across all villas in the Seminyak, Canggu, Legian + Kuta region. A cost effective and fun way for holiday goers to drink safely in Bali knowing what they are drinking at all times!


My first piece of advice....use your allocation of 1 litre per person at an Australian Duty Free shop in your airport. Don't wait until you arrive in Bali because their duty-free shops are NOT duty-free and the tax still applies. Mix and match between your mates. You'll see familiar brands in the supermarkets with the Smirnoff and Captain Morgans label. Unfortunately there are a lot of issues in Bali with counterfeit products, and I can also assure you that spirits can easily also end up in this basket. This is still a locally produced product whether it's by Smirnoff or not, and you can tell because of the HUGE price difference between the locally produced and internationally produced spirits. The Absolute(picture I took at a local mini-mart where you can see the bottle is $95 AUD in Bali, whilst the locally produced Smirnoff Red is $37AUD). My second piece of advice is ....just be aware! Aware of what you are drinking, aware of what your friends are drinking and aware of how you are feeling.



Feel free to send me through any questions in relation to drinking safely in Bali. I’m across most of the information you’ll need for a safe and happy holiday when it comes drinking safely in Bali! Stay safe, Anna x🌴🌴🌴

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