March 2, 2023

Spirits of Sri Lanka

Our little island has a long history in relation to spirits and alcohol. It has been consumed for many centuries in various forms. The most commonly consumed intoxicants on our island are made of arrack, toddy and beer. Here’s some insight on these spirits, and where to find them on your travels. 


First records of any mention of arrack dates back to the 5th Century A.D. This was by Arab traders who were visiting a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. At the time and for many centuries since, arrack acted as the drink of the Royals and it was only during the Kandyan Kingdom that it became a commoner’s drink.

Sri Lanka is the largest producer of coconut arrack, which is traditionally consumed by itself or with a soda of choice. It is also commonly mixed in cocktails as a substitute for the required quantities of either rum or whiskey. 

The production and manufacturing process of arrack revolves around the fermentation and distillation of the sap of unopened flowers of the coconut palm. Men, often referred to as toddy tappers, rise at dawn and move amongst the tops of coconut trees with the use of connecting ropes. The process is tedious, involves a great deal of practice, skill and patience. A single tree could yield two litres of liquid per day. 


The white liquor created from fermenting the sap of the coconut flower is known as toddy. It is our island’s most popular drink of choice and often amped up with onion or chilli. The liquid is known to ferment quite quickly and therefore must be consumed on the same day that it is tapped. If it is left for more than a few days, it turns into vinegar. If it is distilled, it becomes arrack. 


Lion Beer is the most popular on our island. Its origin and brewing began some years ago, although it was in 1881 that commercial brewing of beer became apparent. Despite the tropical climate, the preferred beer styles of the average local consumer have remained relatively unchanged with strong stouts being in high demand. 


An evening of taste testing and indulging in local spirits can be a culmination of discovery and ingenious creativity. Guests at Cape Weligama can experience the art of toddy tapping itself and try out a range of hyperlocal cocktails infused with local spirits at Ceylon Tea Trails and Wild Coast Tented Lodge. 


Toddy tapper imagery courtesy Experiential Journeys –

Creator: Kiedrowski, R. / 

Copyright: R. Kiedrowski