Legendary author Ernest Hemingway had once said, “I drink to make other people more interesting”. Most of my friends who consume alcohol will agree with that. The true essence of any foreign land can be enjoyed through its culture, traditions, food & drinks. If enjoyed carefully this thing can really make your travels more interesting. South Asia has historically been a cultural melting pot of people of different ethnicities from many distant lands & cultures. This has made the foods & drinks of this sub-continent diverse in its truest sense. So, here is your guide for drinking around South Asia with some of the most exotic alcoholic drinks of the subcontinent.
1. Arrack of Sri Lanka
Arrack of Sri lanka can be rightly called as the grandfather of all the alcoholic drinks.
This drink, from the beautiful island country of Sri Lanka can be rightly called as the grandfather of all the alcoholic drinks. It’s a coconut based liquor. Even Marco Polo has mentioned this wonderful spirit in his travelogue. With its smoky flavour & golden colour, Arrack is the most popular local drink of Sri Lanka. It is made from the sap of unopened flowers of coconut palm trees. Each morning you can see thousands of workers climbing the palm trees in Sri Lanka. Some popular Arrack brands are the Rockland, Mendis & DCSL. The taste of the Arrack resembles dark rum. It goes well with lemon, soda and tonic water. So, on your next trip to Sri Lanka don’t forget to buy a bottle of Arrack as a souvenir for your best friends like me. This bottle of Rockland Old Arrack was gifted to me by a friend of mine.
2. Toddy from Kerala
Our glasses of Toddy in Wayanad
Toddy or Kallu is a mildly alcoholic beverage made from the sap of Palm trees. Toddy shop & its food is an integral part of Kerala’s culture. Toddy shop is the place to hang out with your friends.
Kitchen Inside a Kallu Shop (Toddy Shop)
The main delicacies on offer are tapioca, ducks, pork and fish curries. To live like a local one must enjoy a glass of Toddy with spicy food. Booze lovers will be sad to know that as per new regulations by the state government, there are many restrictions on selling of alcohol in Kerala but trying this exotic drink can be a good experience to boast about. I have tried it in every Kerala trip & in various parts of Kerala. Here you can see me with my glass of Toddy in legendary R Block Island Toddy Shop.
With my glass of Toddy in legendary R Block Island Toddy Shop.
3. Feni from Goa
A Feni bottle is very popular as a souvenir among the tourists.
Goa is known for its exotic liquor Feni. A Feni bottle is a very popular souvenir among the tourists. Feni can be made from both Coconut & Cashew. The one made from coconut is popular among the locals & they claim that it’s the best cure for common cold. There are many Feni brands available in Goa. The reputed ones are Spirit of India Feni, Big Boss and Cazulo Premium. The taste is slightly pungent. It can be best consumed with soda & lemon. I will advise you not to call home after two drinks.
4. King’s Beer from Goa
King’s Beer is for Goa what Guinness is for Ireland
There is Goa beyond Feni. King’s Beer is for Goa what Guinness is for Ireland. King’s Beer is very popular among the Goans for its smoky, malt aroma & it will cost only a few bucks to your pocket. The Sun & Sand of Goa beaches can be best enjoyed with a bottle of King’s Beer & the authentic Goan food on a comfy beachside shack.
5. Wines of Nashik Valley
Nashik is fast emerging as the Napa Valley of India. The weather of Nashik district is cool all year around & best suited for wine yards & wineries. Almost 50% of India’s wineries are located in this single district of Maharashtra. The patriarch of Indian Wine industry, Sula Winery is located at Gangapur Dam, Nasik. Staying in their Sula Beyond hotel can be a memorable experience. There are two restaurants in their wine yard. The other notable players are Zampa Grover, Chateau D’ori, Charosa Vineyards and Prathamesh Wineries. Baglouni of Prathamesh is made from the grapes of my native place Baglan & it is one of my all time favourite. Almost all of them have wine testing facilities & offer a winery tour.
6. Mahua of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra
Mahua is the most popular drink of the aboriginal tribal peoples living in India called as Adivasis. It is made from the flowers of Mahua tree widely found in India. Adivasis consider Mahua tree as God & Mahua drink plays a major part in all their festivals. Few of the foreign experts have termed it as one of the best spirits of the world. I am not sure about the legal status of this drink in many states of India.
7. Raksi of Nepal & Tibet
One Raksi, Two Raksi, Three Raksi _ Floor.
Raksi made from rice has been ranked as 41st most delicious drink of the world by CNN. The taste is slightly strong like Japanese Sake. It goes inside you with a slightly burning sensation. It is widely consumed during festivals. During my Nepal trip in May 2013, we were served Raksi prior to our traditional Nepalese dinner in one of Kathmandu’s restaurants. It is generally served in a shallow clay pot. I will advise you to be careful with the consumption of Raksi because the result will be One Raksi, Two Raksi, Three Raksi & Floor.
8. Chhaang of Nepal, Bhutan, Ladakh & NE India
Chhaang or Tongba
Chhaang comes in two variants of Rice & millet or barley. It can be called as a cousin of beer. It serves as the best remedy for common cold, fever, body ache in the cold climate of these Himalayan regions. The drink is widely consumed in all the households & is an important part of the local social life. Engulfing yourself in warm clothes & enjoying a warm glass of Chhaang at your local host’s home can be a wonderful experience.
Chhaang or Tongba
9. Fruits wines of Himachal Pradesh
Fruits wines of Himachal Pradesh [Image By: Adil Arora http://www.indianwineacademy.com/item_1_561.aspx]
You can find them on the mall roads of Manali, Shimla, Dalhousie & all other tiny hill stations of the state. These wines are sweet in taste & mildly alcoholic. They are made with variety of fruits such as apple, plum, peach, pear & berries. It can cost you anything between Rs.150 to Rs. 250 per bottle. The cold weather & the Himalayan spring waters of the Devbhumi Himachal do the wonders for these wines.
10. Whiskies of Sikkim
Whiskeys of sikkim in a Gorkha khukeri shaped bottle
Whiskeys of sikkim
There is a growing whisky industry in Sikkim. These whisky bottles come in various shapes & the most popular is a traditional gorkha khukeri shaped bottle. Many of the tourists take these bottles home as souvenirs. Some of them come in various flavours ranging from Paan, Coffee, Cherry, Ginger to what not. This set of miniature bottles & khukeri were again gifts from a friend.
Almost all the Royal families of Rajasthan have had the tradition of preparing their own alcoholic beverages. Each one of them had a secret formula for their drinks which were passed down from generation to generation. The most notable royal liquor called Kesar Kasturi is made from Kesar (saffron), spices, milk, honey and other secret ingredients. It is a legend that Roger Moore was served with Kesar Kasturi during the shooting of Octopussy in Udaipur. Recently Rajasthan Government decided to revive this age old tradition by setting up the factories for these royal drinks & opened up these royal drinks for commoners.
12. Old Monk
Not all good things of life are expensive.
Though Old Monk is available all over the world, I am purposefully including it in this list as a tribute to one of the finest & the largest selling rum brand of the world. The history of Old Monk goes back to the year 1954. It used to come in an Old Monk shaped bottle. You can find millions of die hard, loyal Old Monk fans all over India. According to them it can cure almost all the common ailments human beings can ever have. For example if you have common cough & cold, your Ex-Army uncle will advise you to take a small quantity with lukewarm water or an experienced friend will even advice you to take it with black coffee. The legendary drink was made famous with quotes like, “Not all good things of life are expensive.”
You can find millions of die hard, loyal Old Monk fans all over the India
Disclaimer & Warning: After reading this post, the readers might think that the author is a drunkard with bad drinking habits which is not the case. You are also advised to drink responsibly, avoid drunken driving & follow local rules.