TimesOnline, the online website for The Times of London, is reporting today that noted former Phoenix artist Rose Johnson, along with a number of other people in the past week, died in Bali from consuming arak, a type of local rice wine, tainted with methanol. According to the news report, police have arrested the owner and two employees of Tra Hita Karya, a small Denpasar rice wine factory, after finding three 650-gallon drums of arak that contained traces of methanol, a toxic chemical compound often used as an anti-freeze or solvent, though investigators have not ruled out the fact that the methanol might have been added to the liquor after it left the factory. The addition of methanol, which is virtually undetectable when added to spirits, has been used to boost the alcoholic content of the Balinese rice wine.
Arak is a traditional Balinese alcoholic drink made from fermented rice, palm sap and corn or other base ingredients, that is also used during Balinese religious ceremonies. The TimesOnline article notes, however, "it has become increasingly popular, especially amongst tourists, after an Indonesian Government crackdown on imported alcohol sent the price of wine and spirits soaring."
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The making and selling of arak in Bali appears to be legal, though not well regulated by the Indonesian government. There is no evidence that artist Rose Johnson knew she was ingesting illegal tainted alcohol at the time she did so nor that she ingested it at an illegal party, as some in the blogosphere are claiming.