WanderRat Special Feature

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Island Bir - Beer of Indonesia
First published in WanderRat issue V1N2 (December 1994)

As one can imagine, the some 13,677 tropical islands of the South Pacific that make up Indonesia are not ideally suited for the growing of barley. Therefore, the beer selection is somewhat limited, and that limitation has a name: pilsener. The two major beers that one finds are Anker Bir and Bintang (meaning “star”; hence a big red star on the label). Both companies also put out a 'shandy' (a mixture of beer and some kind of lime flavored soda. The alcohol content of a shandy is generally less than 1%)

San Miguel (with a variety of names but only one type of beer), Carlsberg, and Guinness (with its Foreign Extra Stout, a rare exception to the beer variety standard) all brew in facilities located on Java. The alcohol content often seems to be somewhat vague and is listed as 4 -5% or ± 7%. Heineken can also be found but only as an import.

With a tropical climate averaging 30° C (or 86° F), it is rather unlikely that one will be able to drink a beer cold without the assistance of some sort of refrigeration (no setting it outside to cool overnight). As low budget travelers to this part of the world, Vermin Brewing International Research members found it at times quite difficult, if not impossible, to experience beer at more customary pub serving temperatures.

Beer prices are not what one would expect, considering that two bars of chocolate and a box of knödel in Germany are the same price as a one night stay in a Bali hotel. Sure one can buy a large 620 ml bottle beer for only 3,000 - 4,000 rupias (approximately 3 DM or $2), but when a filling dinner for two (with any beverage other than beer) ends up costing the same amount, one has to question. The shandys, on the other hand, are quite inexpensive.

And so, as one might expect, beer is not the drink of choice. More common are the native drinks. Brem is a very sweet, thick, brown rice wine with an alcohol content of ± 8%. Tuak is a low alcohol drink made from the flowers of a particular type of palm. Arak is the result from distilling tuak, and is reported to have an alcohol content equivalent to vodka.

Fruit drinks are even more common, and range from the standard banana, papaya, and pineapple to the more interesting coconut, watermelon and avocado. It is tea, however, that is served in the most abundance. Many hotels include it free with the room, and in large quantities at that.

And so, the Vermin Brewing research files close on yet another chapter. There is still one fact, however, that eludes several research members. The travel agency had warned of malaria, typhus, and cholera, but never once mentioned that Indonesia is far from the ideal beer drinker’s paradise.