Smoke, mirrors and Jim Beam

Your Food & Beverage correspondent’s personal preference is for a whisky without an ‘e’, that is to say the unmatchable stuff made from the pure waters of Scotland’s rivers and springs. Even so, there are niche whiskeys that enjoy considerable support, not the least of which is the American Bourbon whiskey, Jim Beam.

This support extends to Jakarta where Jimmy Beam is almost certainly the most “asked for by name” whiskey or whisky of any kind.

Interestingly, we are told by our man in the business that the distinctive bottles of Jim Beam when EMPTY have a street value in Jakarta of a mind-boggling 50,000 Roops. While the bottle is shapely and the label cleanly designed and attractive, it is hardly cynical to believe these factors alone are unlikely to be driving such an elevated price. This cynicism is well placed and Mata Pribadi‘s guiding principle for understanding Indonesia, “follow the money” is the key to unlocking this pricing distortion riddle.

Indonesians are famously inventive when it comes to making a buck and to mint money by taking simple ingredients and making it passably similar to the world’s most famous Bourbon is a challenge they have taken up with a verve and, concentrated around Bandung apparently, there are numerous backstreet workshops busily working away mixing water of dubious origin, alcohol of uncertain provenance and composition and adding flavour and colour chemically before finally, yes you guessed it, putting it into the Jim Beam bottles they had previously acquired at such expense. It is then sold to unscrupulous bar owners at up to 150,000 Roops, or about half the price of the real thing, tax paid.

Just in case you are feeling smug that your tipple is Johnny Walker Red or Smirnoff Vodka or whatever, then that would be naive, those little workshops find these and many others even easier to “copy” than Jim Beam.

Indonesia is well provisioned with laws and there are indeed laws that make such activities illegal, however, the problem as ever is actually one of “enforcement” as, with everything else going on, passing off crap as Jim Beam is not at the top of Pak Polisi’s “to do” list. And, even when they come across it, they are more inclined to consider it as a revenue generating activity of their own rather than let the force of law proceed. A recent raid in Blok-M is evidence of this.

So, what is your by now frightened Expat who likes a tipple to do? In fact there are a number of things that can be done to mitigate the risk of Bandung’s Finest passing his lips.

  • demand that your tipple is not served to you with your regular mix already on top – and then smell it, and then taste it
  • if you buy by the bottle then insist that it is brought to you still sealed. Check the seal as the counterfeiters have yet to learn how to do a good job on re-sealing. If it is dodgy then shout WTF – and send it back
  • ask around those who know, there are bars that serve nothing but the real thing; move there
  • If you think your favourite bar is dodgy, but you don’t want to move for whatever reason, then negotiate a corkage rate for bringing in your own bottle, this is common practice by those “in the know”
  • Any empty bottles at home should be broken before being put into the refuse system
  • Ask your bar owner how he disposes of his own bottles, encourage him to similarly break up his own empties
  • Finally, if you are really risk averse then stick to beer –  it has no such associated problems as the barriers to entry are high and the margins far lower
There are almost weekly reports here in Indonesia of people blinded and/or dying as a result of strong drink adulterated with dodgy stuff, mainly methyl alcohol. These practices have yet to affect what might be called the “premium” end of the counterfeit drinks market, but this does not necessarily hold good for the future.
Now you know, don’t say you don’t.
In our next edition: “Watering down for fun and profit – Confessions of a Bar Owner” – well at least it won’t kill you.
Cheers, and be careful out there!!!
This entry was posted in Business, Corruption, Expat Foibles, Food and beverage, October 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Smoke, mirrors and Jim Beam

  1. TD says:

    for cheap(ish) spirits I’d recommend the duty free on Jalan Sabang. It’s the original stuff and you can pick up a bottle of gin for less that US$20.

    • Mata Pribadi says:

      Thanks TD … what sort of residence status is needed to be able to shop there is the obvious question …. a KIM-S or is a passport enough? … ED

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