Brewing in Singapore

One man's adventure of brewing beer in Asia.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


You see a lot more when you are moving at a slower pace. And you never know what you might find. One of my favorite ways to get around is to bike or to just get out and walk.

I was in Indonesia not too long ago. In my afternoon wanderings I passed into a poorer part of town (where I suspect few foreigners ever go). I was walking along a narrow uneven dirt road with small wooden houses on either side. It was late afternoon and people were outside playing or sitting around talking. I was greeted with the familiar “Hello Mees'terrr, where you go” (I love the way they trill the Rs) - and my ubiquitous answer to that question is “Jalan Jalan” (just out walking).
As the lane turned onto a wider road a small gathering of people called me over to a house, where on the front porch area they were sitting around drinking out of these unusual looking bottles. As I got a little closer I could see that the bottles obviously contained a fermented beverage of some kind that I was not familiar with. I was offered a seat and the chance to buy a bottle. My first thought was - well, look it's still fermenting in the bottle - those guys are drinking it and they are not dead (yet) or comatose (yet), so sure why not, what could happen ?

The woman told me it was 500 Rupia (about 8 cents US) and I thought what the hell. I sat down and drank a glass (much to the enjoyment of the other guys sitting around). I tried a healthy sip and found it strong and wild. There were blur smiles and some nods of agreement from around the table. The aroma was of fermented fruit and fresh bread with a hint of decay, and the taste was sharp and citrusy. We sat for a while in the afternoon heat. One guy played a guitar while others chatted. They asked me the regular question, "whre you from", "where you live", "What you doing here". After a while I finished my glass and figured I should keep walking. I pulled out some change and gave the woman 500 Rupiah. She looked at me aghast and said "no, no - no 500". Well her English being not so good and my Bahasa still not really up to speed I wondered if she had really meant 5,000 Rupiah (about 80 cents). So I took out 10,000 note and asked for change. At which she told me “no 5,000 - 50,000” pointing to my money – well, I knew that was WAY too much for such an item (as beer in a bar is only about 15,000 Rupiah) and thus I got the opportunity to make my first joke in Bahasa. I took back my 10,000 and instead gave her 3,000 saying to the group in Bahasa - "whoa, she crazy woman, yes ?" That got quite a few laughs (although I don’t think she found it all that funny). She continued to insist on 50,000 and I continued firmly but with a smile "Ta Boleh - 5,000" (“no, not acceptable - 5,000”). Finally one of the guys said "yeah it 5,000 not 50,000", and he took my 10,000 note and made change for her. I took my 5,000 change, my bottle of pungent yellow mystery liquid and bid them “Salamat Tinngal”.

As I walked along I quickly SMS'ed the other guys that I had found something special and that we should meet up so that they could try this new discovery. Let’s meet at Larry’s Hotel. I sat in the lobby waiting for the others - And as I sat sweating from my walk - I had a moment. My head had started to buzz pretty good and I began to wondered just exactly was it that I had ingested 10 ounces of ? What the @#%* have I done, God knows what the hell was in that stuff. My head began to swim. I had heard that Extasy (sic) is popular in a lot of Indonesia and I was slightly worried about that for a few seconds. But then I thought - poor people are not going to put expensive EX in homebrew, there is no sense in that. I tried to relax. The head buzz combined with the heat, my excitement of finding a new drink, and my fear that I might have just consumed something that I would have to "ride out" gave me a pretty thrilling 4 or 5 minute there. But as I calmed down I was able to relax and enjoy the feeling. The buzz was different from just alcohol. Bill was the only other person willing to try more than just a sip of the stuff. Both he and I agreed that it gave one the feeling of your head being slightly electrified, like there was a mild electrical current running all over it. That combined with the normal giddy effects of alcohol and a slight disassociated feeling made it quite interesting and unique.

We asked some long time expats what this drink was called but (surprisingly) none of them had ever heard of it. We found out later from some locals that this new (to us) beverage was called Tuak. It is made from the sap of the coconut flower (Cocos nucifira, the most well-known of all the palm trees). It is a traditional beverage made throughout Southeast Asia and recipes and flavors vary from region to region. The taste is an acquired one to be sure. But I think that this new discovery warrant more research on our part (much more research)


At 9:52 AM, Blogger Ben, aka BadBen said...

Wow, Tuak, huh?...that was quite a little adventure. I'm glad you're enjoying the "local traditions." We folks back in the Mundane World are vicariously enjoying your travels through your fun blog posts. Keep posting!

At 10:56 AM, Blogger Jeff Alworth said...

Wow, that is one of the more interesting tales I've heard. It reminds me of a beer brewed "from coconut" in Kerala, South India (I learned nothing beyond that rather vague description). Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track it down, despite my wanderings. When you're wandering, good luck is the best companion.

Great story--thanks!


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