Alcohol in Malaysia

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Local brands of arak putih in a market in Sabah. Most of Malaysia's alcohol production centres are located in East Malaysia as the non-Muslims population are mostly concentrated there.

Alcohol in Malaysia refers to the consumption, industry and laws of alcohol in the Southeast Asian country of Malaysia. Although Malaysia is a Muslim majority country, the country permits the selling of alcohol to non-Muslims. There are no nationwide alcohol bans being enforced in the country, with the exception of Kelantan and Terengganu which is only for Muslims.[1] The Islamic party there respect the rights of non-Muslims with non-Muslim establishments like Chinese restaurants and grocery shops being excluded from such bans.[2] The federal territory of Kuala Lumpur has the highest alcohol consumption in the country, followed by the states of Sarawak in second place and Sabah in third place.[3]

Based on a report released by International Organisation of Good Templars (IOGT) in 2016, Malaysia has the third highest tax on alcohol worldwide at 15%, behind Norway and Singapore which are predicted to keep increasing.[4] The country has the 10th largest population of alcohol users worldwide, with an annual spending of RM2 billion on alcoholic drinks.[4] Prior to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Malaysia together with Vietnam plans to drop import tariffs on beer, whiskey and other alcoholic drinks.[5]

History and tradition[edit]

Jars for the making of the traditional rice wine of tapai in Sabah.

The history of local alcoholic drinks in the country are mostly concentrated in the island of Borneo as the indigenous people in the island have been traditionally drinking a home-made rice wine called tuak and tapai in their communal gatherings and harvest festivals of Gawai Dayak and Kaamatan.[6] The consumption in the Malay Peninsula meanwhile are less since the Malay sultanates there adheres to Islamic principles regarding to alcohol.[7] But following the arrival of alcoholic drinks from the Western world to Malay Archipelago in the 17th century when European colonial merchants began to come in contact with the people in the archipelago, some local Malay population start to taste wine brought by the Portuguese and Dutch and this was continued until the arrival of British until the 19th and 20th centuries.[6] The arrival of Indian labours in British plantations during the colonial times marks the introduction of "toddy" production by the Indian community, as well with the arrival of Chinese labourers on British mines who produce and introduce their own alcoholic drink such as "samsu" to the local community. The British also brought their own drinking traditions with the introduction of beer and stout. In the 1930, the first brewery was established in neighbouring British Singapore.[6]

Industry and products[edit]


Since the British colonial times, Tiger Beer was the first commercial beer brewed in 1932 by Malayan Breweries Limited, a Singapore-based brewery which was formed from a merger between Heineken and Fraser and Neave (F&N).[8] The beginning of alcohol productions in Malaysia start in 1968, when two leading breweries of Guinness and Malayan Breweries merged to form a new company known as Guinness Anchor Berhad. In 1970, Carlsberg established its first brewery outside Kuala Lumpur.[6] Both are since the only legal commercial breweries in Malaysia, which account for 95% of the total beer and stout volume in the country market. In 2007, another two breweries known as Napex and Jaz brewed beer for pubs in the country, but both have since ceased from operation.[8] Beside local productions, many alcoholic drinks in the country are also imported from neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.


A tasting flight of six different varieties of tuak, served with traditional snacks

Tuak (Dayak), also known as lihing (Kadazan-Dusun) or tapai (Malay), is a rice wine made from fermented rice and yeast, with an alcohol content betweent 5% and 20%.[9] It is common in Borneo and particularly important for the Dayak people.[9]

Arak putik[edit]

Arak putih, Malay for "white liquor", is a generic term for locally produced distilled liquor (arrack).[10] While sometimes mistranslated as white wine, the drink is typically much stronger than wine (up to 60%) and is not made from grapes.


Alcoholic drinks being put in a separate storage places with a label "non-halal" in the Giant Supermarket of Sabah.

Alcohol is generally prohibited for Muslim consumers in the country as Malaysia's sharia law forbids Muslims from drinking alcohol. Alcohol is mostly banned for Muslims in the states of Kelantan and Terengganu. The legal drinking age for Malaysia is 21 years old and above, which was officially changed from the previous legal drinking age of 18 with effect from 1 December 2017. However, the enforcement on the new legal drinking age of 21 was held back until 16 October 2018.[11][12] The legal limit for alcohol while driving in Malaysia is 80 milligrams per decilitre or 100 millilitres.[13] Any vendors, restaurants and retailers need a licence to serve or sell tap/draft beers, liquor and spirits in the country, but bottled and canned beers are exempted from such licence requirements which is why it is common to find many vendors and coffee houses continue to serving alcohol in their premises without any licence throughout the country.[13] Malaysia also impose a nationwide regulations for vendors to place their alcoholic drinks into separate refrigerators or storage places, although this was opposed by certain vendors in the state of Penang.[14] The high tax on alcohol has led to the increase price of alcoholic drinks in Malaysia, this has contributed to alcohol-related harm as many indigenous in the interior turning to unsafe alcohol being smuggled in from neighbouring countries.[15] In 2018, around 45 people died in the country's worst methanol poisoning involving foreign workers and several Malaysians due to the consumption of cheap fake liquors acquired from the country's black markets.[16][17]

Following Demerit Points System for Traffic Offences (KEJARA), a Police office or JPJ officer can take breath, blood or urine samples of drunk driver. If alcohol content is found in the samples, a fine of RM 2000 or 6 months imprisonment may be imposed for the first offence.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Liquor Control Bill: How other countries and cities in Asia tackle drinking". The Straits Times. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  2. ^ Dina Murad (25 November 2014). "Husam: Right of non-Muslims to consume alcohol, even in Kelantan". The Star. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Sabah is 3rd highest in alcohol consumption". Bernama. The Star. 11 May 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Malaysia: Alcohol Tax Set To Increase". International Organisation of Good Templars. 3 March 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  5. ^ "Malaysia, Vietnam to drop import duties on beer, liquor". Nikkei Asian Review. 20 October 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d David H Jernigan; Saroja K Indran. "Country Profile on Alcohol in Malaysia" (PDF). Asia Pacific Alcohol Policy Alliance. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 October 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  7. ^ Stimo Kortteinen (2008). "Negotiating Ethnic Identities: Alcohol as a Social Marker in East and West Malaysia" (PDF). Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 August 2012. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Michael Cheang (17 October 2015). "6 things you need to know about beer in Malaysia". Star2. Archived from the original on 27 January 2017. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Tuak - the ancient culture in Borneo". 27 August 2013.
  10. ^
  11. ^ Fazleena Aziz (1 June 2016). "Minimum drinking age raised to 21, effective 2017". New Straits Times. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  12. ^ "Malaysia to raise minimum age for alcohol consumption to 21, from the current 18". The Straits Times. 1 June 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  13. ^ a b Jason Cristiano Ramon. "Alcohol Policies in Malaysia". USA Today. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  14. ^ V. Sivaji (25 October 2016). "Coffee shop, restaurant owners against separate storage space for alcohol". The Malay Mail. Retrieved 26 October 2016.
  15. ^ Wendy Diana Shoesmith; Naing Oo Tha; Khin Saw Naing; Roslee Bin Haji Abbas; Ahmad Faris Abdullah (21 February 2016). "Unrecorded Alcohol and Alcohol-Related Harm in Rural Sabah, Malaysia: A Socio-economically Deprived Region with Expensive Beer and Cheap Local Spirits". Alcohol and Alcoholism. Oxford University Press. 51 (6): 741–746. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agw005. PMID 26903070.
  16. ^ Jamny Rosli (2 October 2018). "Methanol poisoning: Health Ministry tracking down source as deaths hit 45". The Malay Mail. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  17. ^ Richard Whitehead (5 October 2018). "When cheap booze turns into a public health crisis". Beverage Daily. Retrieved 13 March 2019.