In recent years, we have seen the rise of locally-produced alcohol in Indonesia. From craft gins to coffee liqueurs, creative minds have infused ingredients from the archipelago to create one-of-a-kind tipples, bridging the gap between nature and innovation. One example is PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur, a smooth and refreshing blend of Balinese arak infused with nutmeg essence and an array of exotic herbs and spices. Everything is sourced from across the archipelago, it is Indonesia in a bottle. 

The journey began in late 2019 when Dennis Yonasa visited a nutmeg plantation in Cigudeg, Bogor, West Java. He noticed that while the nutmeg seeds were highly valued, the fruit itself was often discarded and yields up to 30 tons per harvest. This struck him as ironic, considering that historically, every part of the nutmeg plant was highly prized for its various uses. Nutmeg was once considered more valuable than gold, used to flavour food and drinks, as medicine for various ailments, or even as a preservative.

Over time, the value of nutmeg declined, and today it is primarily used for its oil and seeds. Inspired to revive the fruit’s former glory, Dennis, along with his partners Isaac, Louis, and Zindy, set out on a mission. Their initial idea was to ferment nutmeg into wine. However, fate had other plans. As they delved deeper into the intricate process, they realised the potential for something better – a liqueur infused with the essence of nutmeg, using Balinese arak as the base. 

Dennis Yonasa and Isaac Nelwan

It was during the pandemic when the idea took root, what started as a casual concoction served to fill the time during lockdown, was responded with much enthusiasm from those who tasted it. This enthusiasm then ignited by a desire to innovate a drink that is truly unique, and with the support from Katalyst Partners, the journey of PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur kickstarted in 2020. 

The process of transforming nutmeg into liqueur is meticulous. After pre-processing, which includes pressing and cooking the juice, the concoction is blended with Arak, a traditional Balinese spirit made from the fermented sap of palm trees. This blending process, though crucial, is just a glimpse into the extensive journey of flavour exploration and refinement. It took the PALAPA team approximately three years to refine their formulation. “We were creating a drink that had no benchmark,” Dennis explains. “So, it was a lengthy process of trial and error, constantly seeking feedback and fine-tuning until we achieved the desired taste profile.”

One of the key challenges in crafting PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur lies in sourcing high quality ingredients. “Nutmeg is not as widely cultivated as other crops like palm oil,” says Dennis, “Most farmers prioritise the seeds, discarding the fruit as waste. We’ve travelled across Indonesia, from Semarang to Papua, and encountered the same practice everywhere.”

Yet, despite the challenges, the PALAPA team remains committed to their mission. They understand the importance of preserving Indonesia’s culinary heritage and reviving interest in forgotten treasures like nutmeg. By collaborating with two nutmeg sources, one in Bogor and another in West Bali, PALAPA also seeks to better farmers’ understanding of the nutmeg fruit’s value, that more than just the seeds of nutmeg are worth cultivating and transforming into higher-value products.

“It’s fascinating to think that nutmeg was once considered more valuable than gold,” says one of the founders, Isaac Nelwan. “But over time, its significance waned, and it became almost forgotten. Through PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur, we hope to reignite interest in this remarkable fruit and showcase its unique flavours to the world.”

Talking about its flavours, the main thing that sets PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur apart from other spirits is of course, the nutmeg. Taking centre stage with its complex interplay of sourness, earthiness and a subtle bittersweetness, nutmeg lends a distinctive character to this liqueur. The warm, comforting quality of PALAPA, with its 19% ABV, delivers a satisfying heat with every sip.

To complement the earthy notes from the nutmeg, this liqueur is elevated by a carefully curated blend of complementary ingredients. Fragrant passion fruit adds a burst of freshness, while cloves, mace, cinnamon, and star anise contribute hints of spice and warmth. The result is a harmonious fusion of flavours that is both tropical and familiar, capturing the essence of Indonesia in every drop, brought by an equally exquisite aroma. Give the drink a little swirl and let the fragrance of nutmeg and passion fruit mingling with the spice, and you will be invited to indulge in a sensory experience found only in Indonesia.

Boasting its Indonesian identity, the name of PALAPA itself is inspired by the country’s first-ever satellite, Palapa, representing the origin of this drink and its use of pure ingredients sourced from various regions of Indonesia. The nutmeg comes from Cigudeg, Bogor, while the passion fruit is sourced from Bali. The mace is from Papua, cinnamon from Kerinci, star anise from Java, and clove from Munduk, Bali. This name reflects the founders’ dedication to crafting a product that is not only authentic but also a tribute to the country’s abundant natural resources.

In Indonesia, alcohol consumption is often associated with the sole purpose of becoming inebriated, while in many foreign cultures, it is more of a lifestyle choice. PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur bridges this gap, offering a drink that combines the traditional Balinese arak with the leisurely enjoyment of alcohol. PALAPA offers a subtle scent that evolves from production to serving, making it suitable for a wider range of palates.

This is reflected by the positive response to the launch of the PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur in Bali earlier in 2024. Many who have shown scepticism towards arak, were pleasantly surprised by the liqueur due to its unique taste that doesn’t contain any overpowering taste or smell often likened to the traditional libation, making it enjoyable for those typically averse to it. The packaging design also contributes to the perception of higher quality with its unique shape and beautiful patterns.

One of the most enjoyable ways to consume PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur is on the rocks, allowing the natural flavours of nutmeg, passion fruit, cloves, and star anise to shine through. For those looking for a lighter option, it can also be enjoyed with soda or ginger, offering a refreshing twist on a classic drink. One of the most remarkable aspects of PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur is its versatility. Whether enjoyed neat or mixed into cocktails, PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur is a delightful addition to any drinking experience. Its tropical flavour, and the essence of nutmeg profile pairs perfectly with a variety of dishes, making it an ideal choice for any occasion.

Distribution channels of PALAPA include the Horeca sector, various shops, and retail stores in Bali, with the option for direct orders from the region just a click away from their website. After its debut in Bali, PALAPA Nutmeg Liqueur plans to expand to Jakarta within the year 2024, where they will be available in selected liquor stores across the capital.

IG: @palapadrinks | palapa.la

Dinda Mulia

Dinda Mulia

Dinda is an avid explorer of art, culture, diplomacy and food. She is also a published poet and writer at NOW!Jakarta.