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Gobie Rajalingam speaks about frontier fermentation in East Timor

Words by Mike Bennie

In 2012 Gobie Rajalingam was working with the Lowy Institute, Australia’s foremost think tank for innovative research in politics, strategy and economic issues, when he landed in Timor-Leste for a short assignment. The six-week project turned into six months.

Amongst clothing, work necessities, toiletries and smalls, Rajalingam packed a five-litre pot still into his luggage – perhaps one of the more unusual travel essentials, but one that laid

a foundation for Distillery Lokal, specialising in the fermentation and distillation of native Timorise produce.

Timor-Leste is a wealth of raw and rich ingredients, many of which are unique to the place. The jungle, farms, fields and wild things that grow where they fall are bound strongly
by narrow seasons. The complete lack of trade options, or the infrastructure to convert those ingredients into commercial products means what is eaten and drunk in the Southeast Asian nation is entirely dictated by what is grown on
their land.

Timor is passively organic - there are no chemical inputs available. The extraordinary biodiversity means you are consuming the essence of place when you consume Timor-Leste produce. There is no adulteration.

Keen to start a bigger conversation around the place he was living, and all those flavours he was experiencing that could not be tasted anywhere else, Rajalingam took advantage of

that five-litre pot still. “The sense of change, what I was consuming that was locally grown,
the interest in understanding hyper-seasonality, all of this began to play into my ideas and experimentation with drinks.”

Rajalingam fermented his first mead in 2014. There were no commercial beehives or honey producers to lean on, so he found wild bee colonies and raw honey, and hand-harvested the first product out of wild hives.

“There’s nothing that captures a sense of place like honey,” says Rajalingam. “It’s the summation of all the complexity of the surrounding location in a teaspoon. It’s surreal.”

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