Bir Pletok
Photo by Ministry of Tourism and Creative Economy of Republic of Indonesia.

Despite the name bir (pronounced: beer), this drink contains no alcohol at all. It’s made from a mixture of spices and the Betawi people consider it a wellness drink, even though it was created under the influence of the Dutch culture of drinking alcohol during the colonial era.

Bir Pletok is the star of Betawi traditional drinks at many cultural events and it is often served as a welcome drink for anyone who sets foot in Jakarta. The drink, with its strong spice aroma and fiery red colour, has been a testament to the decades-long culinary diplomacy of the Betawi people and was originally created as a form of resistance to colonial culture.

Since long ago, the Betawi people have been very close to Islam. Just look at their attire, the men cannot be separated from their sarongs and peci (caps). So when the Dutch came to Indonesia, the Betawi were somewhat antagonised, especially when the Dutch held parties that were never held without liquor. They often saw the Dutch partying and the measure of how extravagant their parties were, was how much beer and wine they drank!

Betawi people perhaps wanted to drink the beer and wine that the Dutch drank, but for them, the culture was too far removed from their own. They couldn’t drink it because it was intoxicating and forbidden by Islam.  So they created a counter-culture, making it resemble beer and wine so they could be able to drink without fear of being illicit. While the name ‘pletok’, is taken from the sound that comes out when the wine bottle cork is opened. 

Like beer or wine, bir pletok makes the drinker feel warm. That’s because it’s made from various spices, like ginger, lemongrass, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, chili, and more! There is also a mixture of pandanus leaves that make it fragrant. If you want a redder colour, just add kayu secang or sappan woodbark. Beer pletok is usually served hot so that it is suitable for drinking in the evening. However, modern bir pletok can also be served cold. Betawi people consume Bir Pletok, which is believed to be high in antioxidants and can boost immunity and treat mild flu.

According to historian JJ Rizal, this drink must be present at Betawi people’s parties. Its distinctive sweet, spicy, and warm taste makes this drink popular with Betawi people and foreign tourists alike, and is a symbol of Betawi’s invaluable culinary wealth.

You can also make your own at home, and here is one recipe:


Water 7 litres
1 kg ginger
10 grams of cinnamon
10 cardamoms
10 nutmeg
10 pcs black peppers
6 pcs kaffir lime leaves
4 Javanese chilli
10 pcs lemongrass
12 pcs pandanus leaves
7 cloves,
kayu secang (sappanwood bark) for natural colour
500 grams sugar.

Cooking methods:

  1. Boil the water until it cooked well
  2. Add the ingredients step by step starting from ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, cardamoms, kaffir leaves, Javanese chili, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, pandanus and sappanwood bark. Boil until 30 minutes and the colour looks red.
  3. Strain and serve.
Sari Widiati

Sari Widiati

Sari has been an arts and culture enthusiast for many years. She has written extensively on the arts, travel, and social issues as Features Writer at NOW! Jakarta.