As many people have been doing this year, I have been traveling by tastebud quite a bit. When we were in Indonesia last year, I discovered arrack (not to be confused with Middle Eastern arak). Arrack is an alcoholic liquor typically distilled from the sap of the coconut palm or from rice. It is typically made in Indian or Southeast Asia, which makes sense given its base ingredients. The liquor ranges in alcohol content, from 33-50% ABV. With a flavor best described between whiskey and rum, it’s a real treat. In Indonesia, the local language, Bahasa, spells it ‘arak’. If you can’t travel to Indonesia, Batavia Arrack is starting to become widely available so keep an eye out. Once you find a bottle, you can start to experiment with this very special spirit.
What is Batavia Arrack?
From the late 17th to 19th century, “punch” was a celebration of all things exotic and imported. No punch was made without a true Batavia Arrack. Made from sugar cane (molasses) and fermented (Javanese) red rice, this spirit is likely the precursor to rum. It’s bottled at elevated proof without aging and combines smoky fruitiness with a perfect funkiness. It pairs excellently with fortified wines like sherry. Batavia Arrack is found in everything from European chocolates to cocktail bars in Bali. It’s made in Indonesia and has been popular across Europe for centuries. The Dutch have a long history with Indonesia (i.e. colonization) and have imported the spirit for years, including the present. While Batavia Arrack is certainly popular, you will only find two main brands. The two are Batavia Arrack van Oosten and By the Dutch Batavia Arrack.
Batavia Arrack Cocktail Recipes
In increasing order of flavor and complexity, here are three cocktails that feature Batavia Arrack.
Cocktail Recipe #1: Arrack Highball
The first is the simplest to make and also introduces you to the flavor of the spirit. A highball is one of the six classic cocktail recipes that are the base of every other drink. The recipe is often overlooked because of its simplicity. But when getting to know a new spirit, this recipe is one of the best ways to taste and appreciate it. Sipping something neat can also be helpful. However, some spirits (like whiskey) really benefit from a little dilution to open them up. This arrack also benefits from some sparkling water.
Batavia Arrack Highball
- 2 oz Batavia Arrack
- 6 oz Topo Chico Mineral Water
- Pour ingredients into a highball (or fizz) glass with a small amount of ice.
- Stir gently and enjoy.
Cocktail Recipe #2: Arrack Strap
If you love a Manhattan, this drink is for you. This cocktail also highlights how well the Batavia Arrack goes with the flavors of amari, using both sweet vermouth and Campari. The recipe comes from the bar Death & Company. I use their books, Modern Classic Cocktails and Cocktail Codex, all the time. While it contains a lot of ingredients, it’s very smooth. The flavors come together in a way that tastes familiar but exciting. The color is deep and rich. I love how the ingredients come from so many countries and continents.
- 1 oz black strap rum
- 1 oz Batavia Arrack
- 1 oz sweet vermouth
- 1 tsp Campari
- 0.5 tsp demerara syrup
- 2 dashes mole bitters
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 1 orange peel
- Add all ingredients (except orange peel) to a mixing glass/tin with ice.
- Stir well (20-30 seconds) to properly dilute.
- Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube. Express the orange oil from the peel over the drink and twist to serve.
Cocktail Recipe #3: Smoking Jet Pilot
This last arrack cocktail recipe is so flavorful and complex. Every sip is a little bit different but it really works. While it certainly tops the charts in sheer number of ingredients, each one is important. The recipe comes from Cali Gold and John Gersten. As with most drinks, you can make substitutions if needed. For example, many recipes for this drink call for a cinnamon simple syrup, which I didn’t have. I used another spiced syrup and it worked just fine. It also called for Herbsaint, and I substituted in another anise-flavored spirit, Cumbé.
Smoking Jet Pilot
- 1 oz mezcal
- 0.75 oz Batavia Arrack
- 0.75 oz reposado tequila
- 0.5 oz lime juice
- 0.5 oz grapefruit juice
- 0.5 oz Tippleman's Double Spiced Falernum Cocktail Syrup (or cinnamon simple syrup)
- 0.25 tsp Cumbé (or Herbsaint)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice.
- Shake 20-30 seconds until chilled well.
- Fill a tall glass with pebble or crushed ice.
- Strain into glass and serve with a grapefruit peel twist for garnish.