A story of perseverance in the pandemic. I Nyoman Sudiasa’s pursuit to find new means of income has taken him on an interesting journey, where he now concocts his own brand of infused arak and helps his friends along the way.
The pandemic has thrown many people in Bali into uncertain and uncomfortable circumstances. At the start of 2020, with Bali’s tourism at its peak, many on the island enjoyed the fruits of this success, with abundance and financial security almost unquestionable. Bali was on a high and everyone was feeling it. Now, a year and half later, the story couldn’t be more different.
The u-turn in Bali’s economy was felt at all levels, but as the pandemic endured and tourism stagnated, many businesses could no longer pay their staff. This is when individuals really began to feel the pinch.
This was certainly the case for I Nyoman Sudiasa, better known as Sudi to friends. Sudi’s career in hospitality has taken him to Dubai and the Seychelles, after which he returned to Bali and worked as a restaurant manager and sommelier in top resorts. He then moved on again to work in one of Indonesia’s major wine and spirits distribution companies.
When you meet Sudi, it’s not hard to see why he has enjoyed a good career path. Worldly and knowledgeable, he has an international mind and a local heart.
But as far as his career has taken him and how much it has provided for him, it wasn’t enough to bolster the effects of Bali’s tourist downturn. Almost simultaneously, Sudi’s wife was laid off and Sudi’s own salary was cut dramatically. Like for so many Balinese and residents in Bali, what were once everyday comforts were slowly becoming less attainable. The uncertainty of life kicks in.
When he realised that the pandemic wasn’t going to end anytime soon, Sudi was restless. He didn’t want to wait around for things to get better. Instead he assisted friends with their work, offered his services to different companies. Nothing stuck. “It was a difficult time, but everyday I looked at my three sons and this was my motivation. I had to find something,” Sudi shares.
Through the pandemic, the Balinese craft spirit of arak has gained popularity. Not only is it a more affordable drink, but young, innovating Balinese have started to bottle and sell the arak mixed with syrups or juices to make this island moonshine more palatable. A trend started.
Sudi liked that this heritage drink was gaining popularity but felt that these pre-mixed araks didn’t do it justice. With a background in food and beverage, Sudi spotted an opportunity.
He bought books, researched and learned about cocktail making. Then it clicked: Sudi would create an arak steeped in rich, natural flavours from products found in Bali. This, he thought, was a great opportunity to help others on the island too.
Producers and farmers in Bali have also felt the blow of the lack of tourism; those previously sourcing restaurants and hotels find themselves with unsold produce. So, Sudi helps his friends by buying their leftover stock. Coffee beans from a friend in Tabanan, passionfruit from a friend in Kintamani, rosella flowers from his wife’s friend in Karangasem, natural honey from a friend in Denpasar, and so on.
For the arak itself, Sudi buys from Made Sukadana, an arak farmer in the east Bali village of Datah, Karangasem, the regency best known for its palm-based arak. “Arak remains in a legal grey zone,” Sudi explains. “Despite being considered part of Balinese heritage, it’s not easy for arak farmers to sell what they make, even as a cottage industry.” So, whatever Made makes, Sudi buys. Understanding that arak still has a questionable reputation in some minds, Sudi has worked with Made to ensure the produce is safe and clean.
With all the ingredients, Sudi and his nephew Arta prepare their bespoke infusions at Sudi’s family compound, now turned make-shift arak lab.
With an understanding of wines, Sudi works to make the sharp and tangy taste of arak smooth and soft. He does this using a traditional method. “I store the newly-bought arak in natural clay pots for two weeks, which removes the natural minerals,” he explains. This mellows out the smell and taste of the arak.
Next, Sudi and Arta prepared the different infusions. They infuse arak with whole Balinese coffee beans for up to a month, or passionfruit and rosella flavours up to a week. They’ve experimented with up to 15 different flavours, testing and tasting, and enjoying their creative process. The result was a range of smooth and flavourful arak infusions that Sudi could be proud of.
In parallel to infusing arak, Sudi was helping his brother set up a small café-meets-bottle shop in Tabanan, Sip n Brew. It was the perfect venue to test out the infusions: regulars gave it a try and its popularity grew through word of mouth.
Lured purely by curiosity, Landriati Pramoedji stepped into the local bottle shop. What was supposed to be a quick stop for a bottle of wine became something much more.
Landriati is the woman behind Sendok Kreatif, a community organisation aimed at empowering out-of-work Bali residents to kickstart their own culinary micro-business. Upon meeting Sudi by chance and hearing his story — his vision for his arak, how he is trying to help producers on the island — Landriati felt his values were exactly what they looked for in their Sendok Kreatif ‘heroes’, as they call them.
After bringing Sudi under the Sendok Kreatif wing, his arak infusions took on new life. With the consulting, feedback and even brand design offered by the Sendok Kreatif volunteers, Sudi’s unnamed arak became “Three Brothers”, complete with its own identity, labelling and style. “Its named after my sons, the three brothers, as they are the ones that motivate me. Everything I make I hope will be theirs one day,” shares Sudi.
Seeing the potential in Three Brothers, Sendok Kreatif provided Sudi with more tools to increase his production, and helped him establish some online presence through social media and marketing.
Currently Three Brothers offers seven flavours of infused arak, Cold Brew Coffee (which tastes similar to an Espresso Martini!), Passionfruit, Rosella, Limoncello, and the result of some further alchemy by Sudi, a Gin-style arak (Ginny in the Bottle), Negroni and Sambuca. Price per bottle ranges from IDR 80.000 to IDR 190.000, depending on flavour.
This is just the beginning for Three Brothers though, as the journey has made it possible for Sudi to explore more of his Balinese culinary heritage. He is now working on making traditional urutan (Balinese pork sausage) and ayam betutu based on age-old methods, hoping to make these available under this newfound brand. What started as a way to help bring income to the household has grown into a potential business for Sudi and his family.
There are definitely a handful of uplifting stories like Sudi’s around the island: people who have found – or created – opportunity in light of difficulty, examples of communities coming together, of people offering a helping hand to friends, neighbours and even strangers.
Whilst challenges remain, the pandemic has given Sudi, and others like him, an opportunity to make something for themselves. The other heroes under Sendok Kreatif are more examples. This could be the early beginnings of Bali’s transition out of a tourism-dependent population, and the birth of an island that empowers itself rather than waiting for the world to return. Let’s hope there are more great stories to come.