One bottle at a time: 24K gold-infused tuak or Foochow-Dayak blend of Tuak Merah?

Tuak Atelier's 24K gold-infused tuak (left) and its Foochow-Dayak blend of Tuak Merah.

By Ashley Sim

IN the heart of Sarawak’s rich cultural tapestry lies a tradition as old as time itself – the beloved brew known as ‘tuak’ (rice wine). For centuries, this rice-based elixir has been the lifeblood of indigenous celebrations, marking joyous occasions with its unique flavour and cultural significance.

At the inaugural Borneo Tuak Festival in Kuching last year, I came across something that truly captivated me – Tuak Atelier’s 24K gold-infused tuak and its Foochow-Dayak blend of Tuak Merah.

From empowering youth to tuak brewing

Amidst the bustling city of Miri, lies a tale of entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and social impact.

Meet Evelyn Teo, the visionary behind Tuak Atelier, a brand that redefines the local tuak scene while empowering marginalised youth through her social enterprise, Work and Training (WAT) Sarawak.

Teo, 38, was born and raised in Sibu. She studied in Australia for eight years and then worked in Peninsular Malaysia for six years. Eventually, she returned to Sarawak and decided to settle down in Miri.

Teo’s main venture, WAT Sarawak, which she founded in 2016, serves as a social enterprise academy, training marginalised youth in hospitality skills. It was during this journey that the idea of Tuak Atelier took root.

Teo poses for a photo at the Tuak Atelier booth at the inaugural Borneo Tuak Festival in Kuching last year.
Teo (left) poses for a photo with one of WAT Sarawak’s alumni.

“We offer skill training and job placement assistance to marginalised youth. Throughout the training, we emphasise the importance of fostering creative thinking and engaging students in various creative projects. So, tuak brewing was one of them.

“While we aimed to infuse creativity into our wine serving classes, we also strived to be mindful of our budget. Therefore, we have made the decision to embark on the journey of crafting our own wine, utilising tuak as our chosen medium,” Teo explained during an exclusive interview.

Turning challenge into opportunity

Teo’s journey of tuak brewing started during the early days of the Movement Control Order (MCO) which slowly paved the way for Tuak Atelier’s inception in late 2020.

“We actually lost our main source of income when MCO happened. So we were struggling to generate cash flow.

“And then there were the few stocks we brewed. It was actually Roselle tuak, our first tuak that we made. Then we decided to sell them to generate some cash for the company. And then everything progresses from there.

“As a result, Tuak Atelier was founded there. People love it, so we continue to brew and sell tuak,” she added.

Tuak Atelier’s Roselle tuak was one of the first they produced.

The ‘Premium 24K Gold Collection’

Daring to push boundaries, Tuak Atelier introduced its Premium 24K Gold Collection, featuring edible gold-infused tuak.

Inspired by ancestral traditions and aiming for visual opulence, Teo sourced edible gold internationally, enriching tuak with a touch of luxury while celebrating local herbs like pandan, bunga kantan, and bunga serai.

“My ancestors hailed from Kinmen, Taiwan. Kinmen is actually known for its gold Kaoliang. It’s a liquor that contains gold flakes. So they are actually quite popular.

“When my family and I returned to visit our ancestors’ families, they gave us a few bottles as a souvenir. That actually inspired me because I wanted to have a collection that was high-end enough for people to send as gifts during the holidays or to people overseas, something that they could bring out and people would be wowed not only by the flavour but also by the aesthetic. Hence, that’s why we actually R&D on several types of edible gold,” Teo said.

As I held the bottle in my hands, admiring its aesthetic appeal, I knew I had discovered something truly unique. Something uniquely Sarawak.

Tuak Atelier’s 24K Liquid Gold Tuak Series shines with edible gold, harmonising with the flavours of pandan, bunga kantan, and bunga serai.
Tuak Atelier provides a wide variety of flavour options.

Tuak Merah: Fusion of Foochow-Dayak cultures

Apart from the enchanting 24K gold-infused tuak, Tuak Merah also stands out. Drawing inspiration from Teo’s Foochow heritage, this unique blend has become the crown jewel of her collection.

As a Foochow, “merah” or red means something special to her.

“For Foochow, we have Foochow red wine where we use red yeast. We then conducted R&D and came up with a fusion of local ragi with Chinese red yeast.”

The combination of Foochow’s red wine making technique and Dayak’s tuak making technique has resulted in a totally new product – Tuak Merah.

Tuak Merah is a fusion of Foochow heritage and Dayak culture.

Empowering palates, empowering people

Looking ahead, Tuak Atelier aspires to elevate tuak consumption beyond mere indulgence, envisioning it as a premium experience intertwined with social gatherings and gastronomic delights. It also aims to expand its reach beyond Miri, with discussions underway for partnerships with hotels, resorts, and restaurants.

At the same time, Teo’s goal with WAT Sarawak is to empower youth with skills and opportunities, creating a ripple effect of positive change in communities across Sarawak.

Empowering palates, empowering young people. The two blend well, like the Tuak Merah and Teo’s worldview, where all cultures collide to give birth to something totally new and beautiful, like the 24K gold-infused tuak. — DayakDaily

Each batch of tuak undergoes rigorous tasting and testing at Tuak Atelier to ensure top-notch quality.