Mar 24 2011
“So it’s legal then?” I ask, as the grinning Indonesian fellow smiled across the table from me. He was going to injure himself if his smile stretched further.
“Oh yes, Pak!” he assured me. I glanced down at the bottles of Swedish vodka, Scottish whiskey and American bourbon in front of me. The bottles were dotted in the pretty foil hologram stickers that would keep the roving packs of customs officials from my door (I fervently hoped).
“So, no problems with the you-know-who?” I queried him.
“No, Pak!” he replied, leaning across the table and patting my hand.
“Except one thing,” he continued. Cue sinking feeling. “One sticker not matching. So customs can still confiscate”.
Alcohol, which is taxed at around 300% in Bali, is able to be obtained legally and illegally on the island. If you’re buying it for personal consumption illegally, which is usually done through a wily middleman, it’s not such a big deal. If you’re a hotel or restaurant who will buy it then sell it on to a customer, do so at your own peril.
One newly opened restaurant/club had 1,000,000,000 rupiah (US$100, 000) worth of alcohol confiscated in a sweep at 19:30 one night recently. Some joints buy illegal and legal, wait until the legal bottles are empty, and simply refill with the illegal. It’s a smart idea that, until customs officials go through every cupboard in your place of business and turn up the contraband ones waiting in the wings to refill the empties.
If you want to bring in your own while on a trip to Bali, you absolutely can do. Strictly speaking, you are allowed 1 litre of any type of alcohol. But there is a particular person at Ngurah Rai airport who will, ahem, “expedite” the 12 bottles of booze you have secured in bubble wrap inside your suitcase for the princely sum of 150,000 rupiah per bottle. I’ve done this a few times for special dinners; you do have to be specific and ask for this particular guy.
Depending on where you buy alcohol once in Bali, it can range from 275,000 to 750,000 rupiah for the same bottle of Swedish vodka. The cheapest prices are offered by a charming chap called Gede, who runs Gede Spirits. He can be reached on: 081 236 164005 / 087 8622 85090 ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) He can be a bit hard to track down, but is worth the effort.
The basic problem going on is that the higher the tax the government imposes, the more smuggling will happen.
It’s been hinted — unconfirmed reports, you understand — that customs officials are selling the confiscated alcohol on to middlemen (like my unnamed mate above) who then sell it to restaurants/hotels/bars… What a vicious circle!
As for whether I bought the booze mentioned in my story above… Let’s just say I have been in a place that has been raided. We received a tip off that they were coming, so we shifted all our alcohol stock from our warehouse to another warehouse in two hours. It was all done on the back of a ute, with me balanced on top trying to hold the precious cargo together.
So when you gawk at the expensive cocktail and spirits menus in bars, do think about what goes into getting them onto the table!
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