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The Spirits of India



Let me clarify! The title is completely misleading and yes, it is intentional. If you are expecting to read about the traditions and lifestyles of India or something truly spiritual, this article doesn’t even touch that premise.

By “Spirits” I solely mean the spirits one can enjoy with friends and strangers alike by the bar. The beverages that bring everyone closer; no occasion or reason required. Yeah! Now that’s definitely worth indulging, isn’t it? Maybe a quick read of this article will be the focal point of some incredible memories you’ll make exploring the Indian subcontinent. 

The right company matters more than the contents of the glass.

Each destination has its own drink that encompasses the core values and traditions of the townspeople. Vodka to Russians, Sake to Japanese and Beer to Germans is what water is to the fish. The exquisite and unique taste that tingles your buds is the embodiment of the rustic culture and history of the land and its people. Recipes of the spirits are often a well-guarded secret passed down generations of a family or tribe. Here are some of those spirits I am talking about. Make sure you try them out the next time you visit India.


Bira 91 craft beer:

This underdog has rapidly progressed to the major leagues in the past few years. It’s all the rage nowadays, especially amongst the beer aficionados. For all the geeks: Bira 91 is brewed from Wheat, Barley, and Hops. It comes in 5 variants- Light, Strong, White, Blonde, and IPA. The “91” in the name might seem weird but in fact is a homage from the founder; “91” being the official calling code assigned to India by ITU. All the variants have their own distinct taste that lingers on the taste buds for a while.

 
Now isn't that a great pi(ctu)tcher?!


Chhaang Ale (North/North-East India):

Originally an ethnic Nepalese/Tibetan beverage, Chhaang is widely brewed and consumed in the Indian States bordering these countries. Jammu & Kashmir, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet are prime locations where it is commonly consumed. The production process is rather archaic but that’s what gives it the true essence of culture. Usually, barley, millet or rice grains are the main ingredients, along with yeast or scum (yes! it says scum - Residual foam from distilleries). Authentic preparations include a bamboo barrel and hand-pressing, giving it a cloudy texture.


Zutho (Nagaland):

This frothy and fruity drink is a novelty preparation of the Angami Naga tribe of Nagaland. Prepared from fermented rice and yeast, its appearance is quite similar to buttermilk or vanilla shake; white and slurry. Even though it only comprises 5% (v/v) alcohol content, knocking back a few of these will certainly leave you euphoric. One might find Zutho to be a sui generis version of the infamous Japanese Sake.


Feni (Goa):

Feni, in its true sense actually IS the spirit of Goa! (Pun intended!) Exclusive to the Indian state, this strong country liquor is dear to the denizens and tourists alike. Cashew apples and Toddy Palm are the two ingredients alternately used based on the preferences of people. “Caju Feni” distilled from cashews is a very hard spirit with an alcohol content of 45% abv (alcohol-by-volume). Coconut/Toddy Feni has a strength of 42% abv. Missing out on this drink while visiting Goa is no less than forgetting to visit the Eiffel Tower when in Paris; C’est complètement ridicule!


Toddy Palm for the Coconut Feni.

Bhang (North India):

Now, it might be incomprehensible but Bhang is a traditional drink consumed in the name of god and culture. The maximum and rather haphazard consumption of Bhang can be seen during the Indian festival of Colors- Holi. People drink it in the name of Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva. What makes it so special you ask? Can you guess the principle ingredient of bhang as well as Lord Shiva’s favorite herb: Cannabis! Bhang is purely prepared from cannabis and consumed in various forms; either as a drink (Thandai or Lassi), as Pills (Goli) or as a dessert called halva. Some of you might object “Bhang isn’t a spirit. It isn’t distilled”. To you, I ask “Are you willing to deny yourself one of the best experiences of India over something so trivial? You decide.”


Old Monk Dark Rum:

The best of its kind, Old Monk is the staple drink of rum fanatics and hard drinkers. It is strong, cheap and gives the exact burning sensation in the throat and chest you would expect. Alcohol content is a staggering 42.8% abv. The XXX rum grade variants, aged 7 years are the people’s favorite. Don’t forget to try some, especially while visiting the cold parts of North India.


Good Times with our pals- McDowell, Smirnoff and the Old Monk.

Next time you visit India and really wish to explore, go ahead and give these a try. These spirits will surely make your journey fun and memorable. Every single beverage I have mentioned comes with an incredible backstory and if you have the right company, your story will be added to the memoirs as well. Cheers! Santé! Prost! Kanpai! YPA (URA)! Acclemeciones!

 

What exceptional drinks have you tasted on your travels and adventures?


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