Bali’s new zero-waste arak bar

Ian NeubauerThe West Australian
Sufian Bin Mahmoud.
Camera IconSufian Bin Mahmoud. Credit: Four Seasons

On some days during the pandemic, Bali’s Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran Bay had no guests and no income. It was a shock for this luxury, villa-only resort, which has averaged room occupancy in the mid-60 per cents (the industry gold standard) since it opened in 1993.

Then a bartender approached general manager Uday Rao with the idea of turning an unused villa into a cocktail school and bar dedicated to arak, Bali’s traditional palm-sap spirit.

“I told him ‘you know we don’t have any money for this’,” Rao recalls. “But he said he won’t need much money because it would be a zero-waste concept. The fit-out will all be made from recycled materials. I couldn’t say no.”

Bali Arak bar.
Camera IconBali Arak bar. Credit: Four Seasons
Bali Arak bar.
Camera IconBali Arak bar. Credit: Four Seasons

Often made in backyard distilleries, arak, like any “moonshine” alcohol, can certainly be harmful. In 2013, Perth teenager Liam Davies died on Gili Trawangan, a small satellite island near Bali, after drinking what he believed were imported vodka-lime mixers at a cheap bar that had substituted vodka with moonshine. But not all araks are the same. Reinvented in the image of small-batch Scotch whisky, top-shelf arak is smooth as silk and can cost as much as $100 per bottle. “When the local food movement reached Indonesia a couple of years ago and bartenders started working with local arak, it encouraged producers to get more creative and a lot better at distilling it,” Mahmoud says. “That’s how I came up with the idea of a sustainable cocktail workshop that focuses on the history and creativity of the Balinese.” The zero-waste concept also applies to the drinks. Take “Made’s Margarita”, a sustainable twist on a classic margarita that uses every part of local oranges from the Kintamani highlands of east Bali, including the pulp and rind, to make garnishes and condiments like orange oil mist — an ingredient for another arak-based cocktail, the Sundara Spritz. The Tebu Mule, a twist on the Moscow Mule, gains flavour from a sugar cane stick instead of processed stuff. Salt, pepper, honey and other ingredients are also sourced locally to reduce the number of kilometres ingredients travel before they are consumed.

Bali Arak bar.
Camera IconBali Arak bar. Credit: Four Seasons

“For many years I visited vineyards in places like Napa and Bordeaux and it inspired me to create a very special spirit of our own,” says Talasi founder Alisjahbana Haliman. “That’s how the idea of Karusotju was born.”

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