The Potent Flavours Of India’s Local Liquors - Homegrown

The Potent Flavours Of India’s Local Liquors

The idea of a tee-totaller India is a comforting one to many people, especially the hoards of ‘culture preservers’ that seem to be thronging mainstream media these days. It was certainly one of  Mahatma Gandhi’s core beliefs but the truth is that India has always had a profound relationship with alcohol. From the Soma of the ancient times to the locally brewed concoctions of the poorest tribes, alcohol has been consumed in India for centuries and while our society often takes a squeamish view of alcohol consumption - from ludicrous license laws and age restrictions of 25 to ineffective total prohibition in some states - there’s no denying that the population harbours a not-so-secret love of the forbidden fruit.
Homegrown presents to you a list of some of the best local liquors you can find in varying regions of the country- from Ladakh to Kerala, each with varying levels of head-spinning charm.

I. Mahua

They’re drinking it in: Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh

Chief Ingredient- Extract from fermented Mahua flowers. 
Mahua trees are commonly found in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa,Bihar, Karnataka,Madhya Pradesh,Rajasthan and West Bengal. In Jharkhand, they hold  a sacred significance for tribes because of their medicinal values. The drink itself is derived by the fermentation of the flowers of the tree and is hugely popular both with locals and slightly experimental tourists. In fact, English Anthropologist  Felix Padel, a descendant of Charles Darwin, had his own two bits to share about the drink, “I wonder why people in India would prefer French wine and English scotch when something as fresh and rejuvenating like mahua exists. As a liquor, mahua is a sacred drink for adivasis, and one of the world’s best when distilled properly.” Sadly, this lucrative form of business, which could very well become an alternative source of business for the tribes, is deemed illegal in Jharkhand, often sold in small quantities in glasses, locally.

Stuttering Ability - Increases illiteracy by at 25-50%, in keeping with its alcohol content. Though this is dependent on the dilution level.

Image Source: Tale Of Two Tomatoes
Image Source: Tale Of Two Tomatoes

II. Kullu/Kallu/Taadi/Toddy

They’re drinking it in: Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

Chief Ingredient- Fermented Coconut/Palm Tree Sap.
One of the most popular local drinks in Kerala, Maharashtra,K arnataka and Andhra Pradesh (not to mention, many other coastal states) this is one of the simplest drinks to make. Collected from the flowers of coconut/ palm trees, the non alcoholic juice when allowed to ferment produces the toddy. The drink is so popular that rumour, myth and fact claim that the notorious tree climbers in Kerala simply extract the juice from the trees and drink it while working. Sounds like some serious work benefits to us. If distilled and fermented for a longer period, it produces the much stronger, Arrack, to be featured further down this list. These are available readily in local liquor shops or with individual vendors in rural areas.
Stuttering Ability- Sanity prevails. More refreshing than alcoholic, it could give Bacardi Breezers a run for their money, with just 5-10% alcohol content.

Image Source: East On A Drift
Image Source: East On A Drift

III. Chhang/Tongba

They’re drinking it in: Ladakh and Sikkim

Chief Ingredients: Barley or millet-based.

A popular drink in Ladakh and North-East, Chhang is often called the “Hot Beer”.Chhang is  said to be one of the more important and indispensable barley based alcoholic beverages, prepared and consumed by the people of Ladakh for centuries. Chhang forms a part of socio-cultural life and no social activities is complete without the beverage. It is said to quench thirst, give energy and provide nutrition. Barley or Millet is fermented for a minimum of 7-10 days and can go on for varying periods, depending on how strong of a blend one desires. The Tongba in Sikkim is served in bamboo tumblers where boiling water is added to fermented seeds at the bottom and one drinks using a straw.
Stuttering Ability -

Nil. A much-needed beverage for the gruelling winters of the Himalayan Region, at sub-zero temperatures, higher would be better with at  5-7% alcohol content.

IV. Sekmai Yu

They’re drinking it in: Sekmai, Manipur

Chief Ingredient- Rice wine/beer

The Sekhmai town in Manipur is perhaps the most famous for the locally made rice beer and wine. While rice beer is made across the state and the entire Northeast named Xaj, Zutho to name a few varieties but the Sekhmai Yu is given special recognition for its quality due to the favourable climate it provides as well as the water of the region. In fact, it has often been compared to Japanese Sake, with many Japanese tourists urging the state government to brand and market the drink. The drink is distilled from fermented rice and is said to be best for immediate consumption. The government has placed certain restrictions on its sale and branding but it can be found in abundance amidst the locals every evening.
Stuttering Ability - Nil. Often compared to vodka in potency, the alcohol content varies depending on the blend selected at 2-10%.

Image Source: Pikpost
Image Source: Pikpost

VZawlaidi

They’re drinking it in: Mizoram

Chief Ingredient- Mizoram grape
This Mizoram grape wine is famous for its bubbly taste. The premium grape wine  is infact economically important for the former dry state with 80% of the city of Hnahlan being employed in the manufacturing of this wine. It is available for a cheap Rs 190 in a state where other branded wines are rarely available for less than Rs. 500.
Stuttering Ability- Mild. Ditch your French wine when in Mizoram for this local favorite at 11-14% percent alcohol content.

VI. Handia

They’re drinking it in: Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh

Chief Ingredient- Rice
Handia is often called the poor man’s beer. Quite popular in Central and Eastern Indian tribes where boiled rice is fermented in an earthen pot  with herbal root called ranu for 2-3 days, the tribes use it as a refreshing drink which helps them avoid sunstroke as well as a drink of socio-cutural significance for occasions like marriage. The tribes claim that one can survive on this drink for 10-15 days without the need for any other food.

Stuttering Ability-

“I’m fiiiine” on loop at 18-25% alcohol content. Yep, we’re not sure we’re buying the tribe’s claims on this one.

VII.  Tharra

They’re drinking it in: Households across India with steady sugarcane supplies and illegal distilleries.

Chief Ingredient - Sugarcane or Wheat Husk
The illegal Tharra is one of the strongest drinks in the world. It is made by fermenting the mash of sugar cane pulp in large ceramic containers. The moonshine liquor of India should be consumed as quickly as made as it turns poisonous if stored for long period and has often been linked to contamination deaths.
Stuttering Ability: Ghajini Levels. Strictly “Scratch it off my list” experimental stuff with a 90% alcohol content percentage. Err...

VIII. Arrack

They’re drinking it in: Toddy producing coastal states - Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, TamilNadu, Kerala and Karnataka (If you know someone who can supply it to you, that is.)

Chief Ingredient- Coconut/Palm Tree Flower Sap + Water
Originally created in Java, Arrack is considered to be one of the world’s oldest distilled spirits. It is said to even be the parent of vodka and the reason for the taste of rum. The spirit can be made from a variety of products but the one in India is most commonly made from Toddy. The liquid from the Coconut flower sap is allowed to be fermented  and then distilled twice to produce Arrack. It is widely popular in South India though it has been banned in Kerala and Karnataka. It can be bought from a shop with an Arrack License for rates as low as Rs 17.
Stuttering Ability-  ‘Incomprehensible’ at 50-70% alcohol content.( Beware of it being spiked with harmful additives)


Image Source: Happily Unmarried
Image Source: Happily Unmarried

IX. Ghanti Kinnaur

They’re drinking it in: Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh.

Chief Ingredient - Apricots, Apples, grapes,Peaches

The drink Ghanti in the Kinnaur District is made from distillation of  grapes, pear, wild apricot and wild peaches. The drink is so popular that the locals are dead-set against any foreign liquors being introduced in the region. It’s almost a daily consumption for the locals and is transparent in its colour like Vodka. It is available in bottles for rates of Rs 100-150.
Stuttering Ability: Unknown until experienced.

X. Feni

They’re drinking it in: Goa

Chief Ingredient - Cashew Apples or Coconut
Feni, the most popular local drink in India, doesn’t need an introduction. A product which performs varying functions as an aphrodisiac, a diuretic, a curative, a laxative and a must try local Goa product. The product requires fermentation of four days alongwith double distillation and is widely popular for making unique cocktail mixes. Infact  it is the first Indian alcoholic beverage to possess a Geographical Indication (GI) registration, a sign that authentic Feni can only be sourced from Goa, catapulting it to the same league as Scotch, Champagne, Cognac and, closer home to the  Darjeeling Tea. The drink will be one of the cheapest options in the menu and a chief ingredient in many cocktails of the state.
Stuttering Ability: What you say in Goa...never makes sense anyway at 42.8%

Featured illustration by Janhavi Singh for Homegrown.

If you liked this article we suggest you read:

Take A Crash Course In Feni-Drinking At This Little Island Near Goa – Book Now

Meet The Man Determined To Refine India’s Alcohol Culture With The Exclusive ‘Vault Tasting Studio’

A Complete List Of 2019’s Dry Days In Mumbai – May You Never Go Sober


Related Articles