Batavia Arak

Kicking this thread off with a rather intriguing and illuminating paper posted by @Bostonapothecary

We still have only one example of Batavia Arak widely available in this country, and that’s the Van Oosten Haus Alpenz commissioned from the Dutch.

I have a few other specimens I’ve collected over the years. My understanding is that in Europe it’s almost exclusively used in confectionery and in producing Swedish Punsch (which is almost exclusively consumed by Swedes).

My feeling is that the spirit is under-appreciated. Mixologically, it has an important history in delicious punch-making, and in general, it can sit in the flavor palette alongside the most distinctive of the pot still rum category (Jamaican, Demerara, Barbados).

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Thanks for checking the paper out. It really seemed to clarify a lot about the production process though the rice remains a bit of mystery. It could simply contribute nitrogen to the ferment.

What starts to emerge is that there are two mother rums and one is high pH while the other is high acid (but not necessarily low pH in the grand scheme of ferments). Both use fission yeasts (which are still a taboo subject in the rum community), as a path to rum oil, but in two different ways. Arroyo’s heavy rums also appear to be extensions of the high pH mother rum.

I analyzed the Van Oosten Batavia arak a few years ago with the birectifier but never published the results because I thought something was wrong with it. It had tons of rum oil, just like a Jamaica rum, but none of the other parts such as esters and volatile acids. I thought maybe it was manipulated in some way, but now with more experience bringing Arroyo’s work to life and translating these Dutch papers, what I observed makes more sense.

Mixologically, there is amazing value in Batavia arak. You get absolutely remarkable persistence. Perfumers describe these rum oil odorants as the most beautiful known (rose ketones) and theorize your immune system bends around them in state of relaxation.

It would be great to see more expressions from E&A Scheer as well as new producers learning from both Arroyo and arak to give us more drinking options.

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Simply because I happen to have a small collection of araks, I just revisited them and jotted down some cursory tasting notes:

Batavia-Arrack van Oosten (50º)
This is the Haus Alpenz product available domestically. It is known to be functional in punches.
The nose is the most rum-like, and it’s a bit vegetal like mezcal or rhum agricole. On the palate, Van Oosten is a bit bitter, and maybe even smoky, sort of. It is hot (as expected). Definitely not a sipper.

A. V. Wees Arac Java-Baru (40º)
This bottling is from a longstanding distillery-now-pub operation in Amsterdam.
This bottling is softer and rounder in both nose and taste, with unmistakable effects of light wood aging. The liquor also possesses more body, and could be mistaken for a whiskey or brandy if you’re not paying attention. Pleasant and drinkable on its own.

Grünerwald Batava-Arak (40º)
This bottling is (or was) relatively common in Amsterdam.
The nose is not particularly interesting or assertive—there’s something there, but not a lot. On the palate, the bottling has the most overall complex flavor, directly evocative to me of the alcohol flavoring in better chocolates. And confections, I understand, is exactly what this product is mainly used for. I consider this definitely drinkable on its own, although I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out for that purpose.

Boven’s echter Arrack Indonesien (58º)
This bottling is from a producer in Germany, near Hamburg, and it is known to be functional in punches.
This one is the most aromatic, and also the most ester-y. On the palate, it is hot (as expected), but not as rough as expected. Overall, a bit one-note.

Speaking of Arak, this one is from Tom Bullock’s The Ideal Bartender 1917: