There is no doubt that the Southeast Asian bar scene is on top of its game. Craft bars and speakeasies are competing to showcase top alcohol brands and brazenly experiment with house-made everything. Behind the coppers, suave mixologists have never been more creative and innovative. They have powerful access to the best of juggernaut spirits and top tipples, luxury equipment and brazen investors. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with Indonesia.
High import tariff on wine and spirits nearly doubled the price of alcoholic beverages. On top of that, a spat between the European Union over Indonesian palm oil in 2019 has escalated into a de facto ban over European spirits. Major Indonesian importers found their applications rejected and alcohol shipments have been stranded in containers and warehouses until today. As a result, Jakarta and Bali’s bottle shops are offering limited spirits options and just wines that mostly come from New World vineyards. To make it even worse, the pandemic happened.
But, it is not all doom and gloom. True to the old adage that opportunity often appears in the most challenging time, several entrepreneurs saw the opportunity, seized it and in the process, igniting the beginning of a new wave of premium spirits made in Indonesia. Forget cheap bootlegged booze that gives you a hard-core hangover. Next time you find yourself in Jakarta, ask the mixologist for Indonesia’s own craft gin, served neat with hints of fresh citrus and warm coriander.
This particular endeavour started with a noble purpose: to improve the livelihood of Balinese local grape farmers. Situated on the bay of Saba, Gianyar, Bali, Sababay Winery started off producing wine in 2009.
The grapes are cultivated together with farmers in the northwestern coast of Bali where dry climate and rich-latera volcanic soil provides an ideal condition for grape growing. The vineyard has created an exclusive partnership system with more than 175 farmers in Gerogak, Seririt, Banjar, and Buleleng areas. The agreement stipulated that the vineyard guarantees to repay the high-interest loans that the farmers have had through future grape harvests, provide technical assistance in farming, and most importantly, buy their grapes at a stable price.
“In 2018, we were entrusted to produce sacramental wine for the Catholic churches in Indonesia, a big step toward self-sufficiency. To ensure the quality and consistency of this fortified wine, we acquired a distillation machine which then paved the way for an expansion to crafted spirits. That’s how Sababay Distillery was founded in 2019,” explains CEO Evy Gozali. The state-of-art copper alembic distillery can be seen when one visits the two-hectare winery and distillery.
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