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Life

Reinventing an ancient spirit with a bad reputation

In Bali, Indonesia's traditional 'arak' liquor is moving upmarket

A bartender mixes an arak cocktail at Karma Kandara Bali, a luxury resort and beach club on the island's Bukit Peninsula. (Ian Neubauer)

DENPASAR, Indonesia -- Ask people who have holidayed in Bali about arak -- a colorless alcoholic drink traditionally made in backyard distilleries -- and you will hear stories about drinkers getting sick, going blind and sometimes even dying after patronizing cheap bars that substitute arak for imported spirits to increase profits.

"There have been a number of deaths and cases of serious illness of locals and foreigners in Indonesia caused by drinking alcoholic drinks contaminated with methanol. There have also been cases of methanol poisoning from drinking adulterated arak," warns the U.K. government's foreign travel advice.

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