04 June 2009
Arak, Bali, and Death
Arak (photo courtesy of here - this is not the nasty stuff that is described later) is a bit of a local tradition in Bali, as it is in many places throughout Indonesia. Arak is a locally fermented spirit, which in the opinion of this author is good enough to run your car on, and is quite often outside of the quality assurance checks that most other producers are required to comply with. Needless to say, as happens all over the world, in order to make things go a little further and to ratchet up the profits some unscrupulous producers add all sorts of nasty stuff to their brews.
In this case, and after some 25 deaths, tourists are being warned not to drink arak from unlabelled bottles or roadside stalls. Hopefully, the authorities are also warning Balinese not to drink arak either. It seems that a local batch of arak has been mixed with methanol. Four foreigners have succumbed to the poison and died while 21 locals have also been hospitalized.
The police have managed to catch the culprit / producer and are now doing the investigation. The investigation is supposedly to determine whether the methanol was deliberately added or it got into the batch accidentally. I am not sure how you accidentally get something like methanol into a batch of arak, especially so when one considers that methanol is generally used in anti-freeze among other things.
So, I guess the best advice to locals and tourists is to avoid arak and go with spirits, local or imported that come from labelled bottles. Although, not wanting to be a party pooper, I am pretty sure that it would not be hard to whack some homemade brew into a labelled bottle.