Distilling Death

With Bali’s out-of-control wild dog population continuing to take human lives through their vectoring of the rabies virus, more people died this week from another problem that remains uncontrolled: the illegal brewing of the spirit arak in which deadly ingredients are unwittingly added.

At least two men died in Klungkung after they drank arak at the weekend that had been mixed with methanol, leading to swift but agonising deaths. Around two dozen others were taken to hospital after drinking the brew.

A similar number died last year after drinking ethanol-laced arak made at a Denpasar distillery; four of them were foreigners.

Locally made alcoholic drinks such as arak and brem have traditionally been popular around Bali; they are cheap and potent. They are also used, although not intended for imbibing, at Hindu ceremonies. A large amount of the production is carried out in homes, unknown to the authorities, and therefore there is neither any control nor consumer knowledge about what the drinks are composed of.

The manufacture of all food and drinks in Indonesia requires approval and licensing from the central government, but while last year’s tragic arak deaths forced the closure of the distillery in Denpasar and resultant prosecution and jailing, roadside foodstalls across Bali are not authority-supervised, nor those who locally supply them.

This latest deadly incident stemmed from a bout of pre-ceremonial drinking at one local café, and police are investigating, saying they plan to take action against the seller and distributor of the tainted arak.

To ensure that this is not a continuing story of endless deaths from arak mixed with toxins – an uneducated practice designed to inflate the drink’s volume – police in villages everywhere need to conduct operations at every place where food and drink is sold. It is only with such raids, and arrests, that this illegal distilling will be stopped.

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