Spirited Traveller: Arak gives tipplers a Bali high

Tue Jan 24, 2012 12:12pm EST

Jan 24 (Reuters) - (Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available <here >. The opinions expressed are her own.)

NEW YORK - Pastry chef Will Goldfarb is living every stressed-out urbanite's dream.

After several successful years in New York running a dessert-centric restaurant with a cult following, he picked up and moved to the tropical paradise of Bali and is now executive pastry chef at Ku De Ta (kudeta.net/), a restaurant and beach club with a cult following.

"[Bali's] local drinking culture is very sophisticated these days," Goldfarb says, adding that there's lots of fresh young talent working hard behind the bar to impress the international clientele.

The iconic tipple here is a spirit called arak. "The ultimate local beverage would probably be... an Arak Madu with honey and lime," notes Goldfarb.

(Not to be confused with arrack, an anise-flavoured spirit popular in some Middle Eastern countries, Bali's arak is distilled either from coconut palm sap or a mix of black glutinous rice and coconut milk.)

Although inexpensive, arak can be found at bars catering to locals and budget-minded tourists, Bali's more upscale restaurants and cocktail lounges tend to promote pricier rum and vodka drinks, mixed with tropical fruit such as mango and passionfruit, and Asian-inspired flavourings like ginger and lemongrass.

Fiery arak is usually available for the asking, though.

Batavia Arrack, distilled from molasses on the Indonesian island of Java, also may be found at some resort hotels; some historical-minded mixologists consider this an indispensable ingredient for punches.

In addition to Ku De Ta - a hedonistic spot described by one writer as "Miami meets Ibiza" - Goldfarb recommends a number of other spots for thirsty business travellers. Not surprisingly for a tourist-centric location, a number are within hotels.

Though it's a long way from the New York original, where the Bloody Mary was created, Bali has its own King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel (bit.ly/xKdpww), where dealmakers have access to a full Bloody Mary menu and bar food from chef Oscar Perez.

Elsewhere, the Four Seasons Sayan (www.fourseasons.com/sayan/), which boasts "Bali's most dramatic entrance," is a choice spot to impress clients.

Meanwhile, "For daytime meetings, nothing beats a draft beer poolside at the Canggu Club" (www.cangguclub.com/), a private club "where you can squeeze in a set of tennis eighties style while demonstrating your knowledge of the local real estate market."

But for an after-work drink, Goldfarb heads away from the hotel scene, whether that means the upmarket Mama San (mamasanbali.com/) in Seminyak, a hit for Aussie chef Will Meyrick, or "the ultimate killer martini" at one of the grittier Naughty Nuri's locations in Ubud and Batu Belig.

"If that fails," counsels the pragmatic pastry chef, enjoy a beer "with your toes in the sand." Or an arak-laced cocktail, if you dare.

RECIPE: Arak Madu

Some liken this to a "poor man's Margarita," thanks to its mix of tart, sweet, and spirit. If Indonesian arak is unavailable, white rum or cachaca should make a passable substitute. 1 1/2 ounces Indonesian arak (white rum may be substituted) 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice 3/4 ounce honey syrup (made by mixing 2 parts honey and 1 part hot water) In a rocks glass, stir together all ingredients with ice. (Editing by by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato)

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