Batavia Arrack, the Colonial Bottle Coming Back Into Style

By Carey Jones and John D. McCarthy |

© Carey Jones

When you think of spirits that date back centuries — your gins, your whiskeys — odds are “Batavia Arrack” is not a name that pops into your head. But this Indonesian spirit, made on the island of Java, distilled from sugarcane and fermented red rice, was all the rage in the colonial era.

It starred, most often, in punches between the 17th and 19th centuries. The history of punch is tied up in trans-continental colonial trade, and Batavia Arrack was brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company. It’s called for by name in dozens of punch recipes from the mid-19th century. But it fell out of favor by the turn of that century, while rum grew increasingly popular, and was only recently brought back to the United States in 2007 (by Haus Alpenz, many a cocktail nerd’s favorite importer of obscure international bottles).

On its own, it’s a bit puzzling, with a taste like a funky rhum agricole. But its slightly rough-around-the-edges quality can be quite appealing in cocktails — as the colonial Brits knew, and as we now do as well.

Easy: Batavia Arrack & Bitters

The funk of Batavia Arrack is fun in small doses, so we thought to pair it with an also-funky but slightly more friendly sugarcane spirit — Jamaican rum. Add a healthy dose of bitters, a lime, and club soda, and you’ve got an ideal summer cooler. 

Instructions: In a tall glass with ice, combine 1 ounce of Batavia Arrack, 1 ounce of Jamaican rum like Appleton Reserve, 4 ounces of club soda, and 3 big dashes of Angostura bitters. Garnish with a lime wedge, squeezing it in before you serve.

Intermediate: Batavia Arrack-quiri

Rum + lime + sugar = a daiquiri.  When you swap in Batavia Arrack, you’re getting a stronger spirit (up at 100 proof) and those additional powerful flavors; so we’re adding grapefruit juice for balance. Since colonial punches made use of spices, we’re honoring that tradition with a grated nutmeg garnish. 

Instructions: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 1 1/2 ounces of Batavia Arrack, 3/4 ounce fresh grapefruit juice, 1/4 ounce lime juice, 1/2 ounce agave syrup (light agave mixed in 1:1 ratio with hot water), and 1 dash of orange bitters. Shake all that up until well-chilled, and strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lime wheel, a brandied cherry if you have one, and a grating of fresh nutmeg — that’s key.

Advanced: Batavia Arrack & Ginger

We love ginger’s spice with aggressive spirits, and Batavia Arrack is no exception. Add lemon and sweetener and club soda to make it a tall drink, and add a cinnamon stick as a nod to colonial spiced punches, and you’ve got a memorable cocktail.  

Instructions: In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle a round of fresh, peeled ginger that’s about 1/2 an inch thick. When fully smashed up, add 2 ounces of Batavia Arrack, 1 ounce of fresh lemon juice, 3/4 ounce agave. Shake all that up until well-chilled, and strain into a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with 1 ounce of club soda and garnish with a big cinnamon stick and a few lemon wheels.  

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