Batavia-Arrack van Oosten is an Indonesian form of rum, but in reality, rum is the Caribbean descendant of arrack. The domestication of sugarcane likely first occurred in Papua New Guinea and its cultivations spread westward into Indonesia and the Asian subcontinent. The exact date when sugarcane was first used to produce alcohol is unknown, but it’s believed to be at least three thousand years ago. Arrack is a general term used for distilled spirits in the region but the for international consumption arrack is normally divided into two categories: Batavia-Arrack and Ceylon-Arrack. Producers of Batavia-Arrack use molasses from sugarcane as the base, but Ceylon-Arrack uses palm sap. In addition, Batavia-Arrack primarily comes from the island of Java that has the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, which was named Batavia under Dutch colonial control.
Batavia-Arrack’s aroma and flavor owe a significant amount of its distinctiveness to the fermentation process and ingredients. Molasses is the base, but red rice covered in wild yeast kickstarts the fermentation process. There is no time in barrels post fermentation, and it is bottled at 100 proof, higher than most rums. Without any aging, the arrack is clear, as time spent in barrels is what generally lends color to liquors.
Batavia-Arrack’s best quality is its ability to elevate the ingredients paired with it. However, drinking Batavia-Arrack by itself is a unique experience. The clear spirit’s smell changes progressively over a long deep breath. The initial scent has a hint of pineapple, gradually transitioning to a bright sea breeze. At the deepest part of the breath, the 100-proof nature of the spirit takes over and the sharpness of the alcohol finishes the aroma. The flavor brings some unexpected notes. Initially, there is a smoky quality that reminds me of overly toasted caramel. The initial flavor brightens quickly, and the taste reminds me of the smell of fresh cut grass. A sip ends with a tantalizing warmth, again because of the high alcohol content.
THIRST AND HUNGER
Twist on a Classic: Mai Tai
At this point mid-summer, Arlington, Virginia and Jakarta, Indonesia are both above 90 degrees midday with swamp-like humidity. Often, I make my cocktail late afternoon after taking my two dogs for a long hot walk and working out. All I want is to cool off and give myself the illusion of hydration. So, for the twist on a classic, I decided to make a Mai Tai variant. The depth and slight funkiness of the Batavia-Arrack makes the perfect substitute for rum in the Caribbean classic.
For the drink
2 oz Batavia-Arrack van Oosten
½ oz Solerno blood orange liqueur (or other orange liqueur)
1 oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz Orgeat syrup
For the garnish
Slice your lime into a wedge and select your mint sprig.
Fill your tiki glass or old-fashioned/rocks glass halfway with crushed ice.
Measure and combine the ingredients in your cocktail shaker. Fill it about halfway with ice and shake for about 10 seconds. Pour your drink through a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer into the glass. Garnish with a mint sprig and lime wedge.
Something Original: Wicked Javanese
For some reason, I felt like fusing Indonesia and New England. I wanted to pair Batavia-Arrack and maple syrup. From there, I decided to build the drink with a goal of balancing the various elements of taste: sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness. The maple syrup and sugar from the ginger syrup provide a sweetness. The grapefruit and ginger bring a melodic sourness to the palate. These flavors are balanced with the bitterness of the Cynar, an artichoke-forward amaro and two drops of the saline solution. The Cynar invigorates the palate, while the saline solution actually brightens drink. I made two versions of the drink, one with the saline solution and one without it. I then took a blind taste test and thought the one with saline solution had more pop.
For the drink
1½ oz Batavia-Arrack van Oosten
½ oz Maple syrup
½ oz Ginger syrup
1 oz Fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
¼ oz Cynar
2 drops saline solution
Fresh peppermint (~4 leaves)
For the garnish
Place the ginger syrup and peppermint leaves in your cocktail shaker and muddle for 5-10 seconds.
Measure and combine the remaining ingredients in your cocktail shaker. Fill it about halfway with ice and shake for about 10 seconds. Pour your drink through a Hawthorne strainer and a fine mesh strainer into the glass. Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
Eat Your Spirit: Bananas-Arrack Foster
I’ve always felt bananas are an underrated fruit. Their commonality and subtle flavor make them less flashy than others. And, picking up two for a dollar at 7-Eleven doesn’t make them more elegant. Bananas-Arrack Foster gives them the Great British Bake-Off showstopper treatment they deserve by setting the pan ablaze flambé style. Like the Mai Tai above, I substituted Batavia-Arrack for the rum, which takes the bananas, vanilla ice cream, and spices to the next level. The Bananas-Arrack Foster has a warm toffee flavor that elevates the cinnamon and cloves, with the vanilla ice cream serving as a wonderful canvas for the flavors. Don’t burn your house down.
For the Bananas-Arrack Foster (recipe for two):
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
Lemon peel- about an inch-long strip
1 slightly green banana
2 tablespoons Batavia-Arrack
Vanilla ice cream
-Cut your banana into 3 pieces then halve those pieces lengthwise and set aside.
-Melt the butter in a 10-inch heavy bottom skillet on medium-low heat.
-Mix in the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and lemon peel. Stir constantly for about a minute to combine with the butter.
- Add the bananas. Cook for one minute and thirty seconds on each side.
-After the three minutes, take the pan off the heat. Turn off your vent if it was on and your stove, especially if it’s gas.
-Add the Batavia-Arrack and let it warm for about five seconds then, with a match, wave your lit match just above the surface.
-It should ignite, but if it doesn’t try again. You may not get huge flames.
-The flame will burn off. Once it does, scoop the ice cream and top with the Bananas-Arrack Foster.
This post is harder to write than others as I have not been to Indonesia, the closest I’ve come is Singapore. So, instead I’ll list some things on my itinerary if I were to visit Java one day and provide some links to sites I trust.
-Jakarta, the capital, is probably the best place to try and experience a range of cultural experiences from some of the 17,000 islands that make up the archipelago nation.
-The Borobudur Temple in central Java is considered the largest Buddhist Temple in the world dating back to the 9th Century AD.
-Bandung, a city in central Java, is considered one of the top places for Indonesian fashion.
-Ujung Kulon National Park on the eastern tip of Java is believed to be the home of the last Javan rhinos, with potentially only 50 left.
-I’ve never surfed, but Pelabuhan Ratu would be an amazing place to start.
-Krakatoa, a volcano that erupted in 1883, is one of the most violent eruptions recorded in human history and sits off the eastern coast of Java and the southern coast of Sumatra. The volcano’s eruption was 13,000 times more powerful than the nuclear bomb that the US dropped on Hiroshima and could be heard 3,000 miles away.
Food and Drink:
-Satay! And so much more in Jakarta.
-It wouldn’t be the collarless without cocktail bars!