Indonesian bartenders are creating their own liqueurs with local ingredients to overcome the barriers of inconsistent supply. By Kabir Suharan.
When a guest comes into your bar and asks for a Corpse Reviver #2, but Lillet Blanc and all other gentian vermouths have been out of stock with your suppliers for six months, what do you do? Welcome to the reality of tending bar in Indonesia. In hospitality we are all taught from an early age to never say no to a guest. Considering this adage, a band of bartenders in Indonesia are using their ingenuity, knowledge and some unique local ingredients to recreate their own versions of missing liqueurs and vermouths.
In my own bar and restaurant, Pantja, we make our own herbal Strega liqueur for our house Vieux Carre – driven to necessity after a yearlong shortage of Dom Benedictine in Jakarta. I spoke to other bartenders in Indonesia to understand how these home-made substitute ingredients have taken on a life of their own and how their final cocktails end up being refracted through the prism of Indonesian flavour.
Last Word. Bijou. Vieux Carre. These are the names of some indelibly classic cocktails that you would be hard pushed to find in Indonesia. The reason? Chartreuse, Peychaud’s Bitters and Dom Benedictine are elusive of ingredients here. Chartreuse has never officially been brought into the country – but the fact that some bars have managed to source a bottle or two is a testament to their dedication to serve great classic cocktails to their guests (and to their hand-carry skills!). This hasn’t stopped chef Will Goldfarb and his general manager Komang Sukrada Yasa from pumping out Last Words at Room 4 Dessert in Ubud, Bali.