While the gin and tonic revolution might be taking the country by storm, there is something to be said about the charm of local and indigenous alcoholic beverages across South Asia. Not only are they amongst the most potent but the fermentation process makes them loaded with pro-biotic benefits.
When I tried feni in Goa earlier this year, I was surprised at just how much I liked it and that has led me in a quest to understand local alcoholic beverages better. While these may all be acquired tastes they are certainly worth a shot (or five). Here is Homegrown’s curation of some local alcoholic beverages across South Asia that should be on your alcohol bucket list.
A specialty of the indigenous people of the Ribba region of Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh - angoori, also known as kinnauri, is a popular drink among the locals that is consumed at fairs and other religious gatherings.
The potent wine is made by fermenting green and red grapes. The red grapes have a higher alcoholic content (5.10% v/v) than green grapes(3.44% v/v) and the resultant drink is a great remedy for cold as well.
Ara or arag is a traditional beverage from Bhutan that is usually creamy, clear, and white in colour. It is made by fermenting or distilling rice or maize and is mostly made for personal consumption due to the fact that the sale of ara is prohibited.
It is usually consumed hot and served neat by adding ingredients like poached eggs or butter and sometimes even scrambled eggs or rice. In Eastern Bhutan, it is made for religious purposes as a lhasoel (an annual supplication ceremony for the gods) during auspicious days.
Native to the land of Tripura, chuak is an alcoholic beverage made with pineapples and jackfruit. Often consumed as a ritual on social occasions by the local population, chuak has a delicious, fruity taste.
Another popular local beverage of the Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh is chulli, a light drink with a sublime fruity taste. The drink is brewed by using dried wild apricots and apples and has a clear vodka-like appearance.
An indigenous alcoholic-fermented beverage, handia is a rice beer that is popular among certain indigenous tribes of India. It is considered to be the most sacred drink in the Munda and Santhal tribes and is offered for both religious purposes as well as for celebrations.
Handia is prepared by mixing boiled rice with a traditional fermenting culture known as bakhar that mixes 20-25 indigenous plant species. The resultant mixture is then fermented in an earthen pot or handi for 2-3 days with the lid slightly open. Post fermentation, the slurry is filtered and a cream-coloured drink is born. Tribal women play a key role in the preparation and sale of handia.
A Goan classic and perennial favourite, feni is a liquor that dates all the way back to the 16th century. A velvety and extremely potent drink, feni is made by double distilling the cashew apple fruit.
With hints of nutty spice and tropical fruit, it pairs well with citrusy drinks like Limca or just lime soda with a slit chilly, which might sound like an odd combination but actually tastes like a match made in heaven.
An alcoholic, fermented, traditional drink of many ethnic groups in Nepal, Tongba is a millet-based drink. Traditionally prepared by the Limbu Sherpas of Nepal, the brew was prepared for religious offerings, ceremonies and celebrations. It quickly gained popularity in the neighbouring regions of Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet.
The alcoholic brew is created by taking regular cooked millet seeds and fermenting them in a bamboo container from anywhere between a week to a month-long period. It is consumed by steeping the fermented millet seeds in hot water, leaving behind a cloudy liquid. The sour drink is then had with perforated bamboo straws so that all the seeds can be filtered out.
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