Local Alcohol from different parts of India
IMFL is a term that explains it all. IMFL is an abbreviation for Indian Made Foreign Liquor. It refers to all foreign origin liquors that are made in India including Indian whiskies, wines, gins, beers et al. The term IMFL was first born in Bangalore. The local alcohol was Arrack and one that did not cause a hangover. However, the British living in the Cantonment area found the liquor not to their taste and wanted to brew something that reminded them of home. Whisky started to be brewed in the Cantonment area of Bangalore and Indian Made Foreign Liquor was thus born.
The local brew of a place speaks a lot about the culture of the place and to what extent the same is preserved today. Having different climates and thus different crops, the local alcohol of each place was different. Moreover, the consumption of this alcohol was not taboo as this alcohol was not known to cause alcoholism. In fact, the natural fermentation helped aid digestion and in many regions the alcohol was considered nutritious as it was all organic at the time. Here are a few from all over India.
Ladakh is a cold desert – one where the agricultural season is short. It is also where the temperatures are extreme and the winter temperatures can be as low as -40 degrees Centigrade. As a result, only the hardiest of crops grow in the region. Wheat and barley form the staple diet of the locals. This is processed in many ways and one way to preserve the nutrition has been through fermentation and the production of Chhang – the local brew. It is an indispensable alcoholic beverage and one that has been consumed for centuries by the locals.
Chhang is a specially important beverage during the time of any social celebration. A marriage proposal involves the offering of Chhang by the groom’s family and the acceptance of the same by the bride’s family signifies the acceptance of the proposal. When a baby is born in a family, neighbours bring gifts of Chhang and barley flour. Local dignitaries, including monks and kings are also welcomed with gifts of Chhang. In daily life, Chhang helps in quenching thirst and providing nutrition. Farmers drink it often during their work day. The residue from Chhang is often taken by shepherds as food while grazing their herd. Chhang is made by boiling barley grains, adding a starter culture and then, extraction and filtration after fermentation.
The Easternmost state of Tripura is known for its cultural heritage and natural beauty. It is known for its lake palace and carvings of 10 million Shivas into rock faces. The place is also known for Chuwarak – a local brew that has been consumed for centuries in Tripura. Chuwarak is made from fermented rice types including Mami and Burra, from pineapple, or from jackfruit. Apart from this indigenous ingredients like Tokhiseleng and Thakathor leaves are also used in the brewing of this alcohol. While it is quite strong and has a heady taste, it is rumored to be one of the safest alcohols in the world with low chances of complications arising.
One of the more famous of the local brews is Handia. It is a country liquor made from rice and various herbs. Consumed mostly by the Santhal and the Munda tribes, it is known to be a valued possession and one that is revered as a gift. It is considered as a sacred gift and is given as a religious offering as well. In regular Munda or Santhal society, Handia plays a role in the social customs too. During weddings, families greet each other with Handia. The gifting of Handia also signifies the status that is accorded to the receiver. Festivals are celebrated with Handia. Even funerals are signified with Handia. Since the deceased’s family is in mourning, relatives bring Handia as gifts.
Handia is made from brown rice and a tablet called Ranu. Ranu is a mixture of dried and powdered roots and barks that have medicinal purposes and also serve as intoxicants. The brown rice is boiled with water so that it loses consistency. The tablet is then broken and mixed with the rice. The entire mixture is left for 2 days. Once fermented, the mixture is then strained and the juice extracted. The juice has a sour taste – like dry wine.
Feni is the most famous liquor that you would have heard of. Brewed on the sun-kissed beaches of Goa, the liquor has gained great distinction over the years. It now has its own Geographical Indication and has been classified as a Heritage Liquor as well. Since Feni is a country liquor, it is not sold outside Goa. The name comes from the Sanskrit word “phena” or froth – an indication of the bubbles formed when the bottle is shaken or poured into a glass.
There are 2 kinds of Fenis brewed – the Cashew Feni and the Toddy Palm Feni. The Cashew Feni is brewed from fermented ripe cashew apples. It is distilled in a traditional pot and is traditionally a triple distilled spirit with 45% Abv. The Toddy Palm Feni or coconut Feni is distilled from Toddy Palm. The Toddy is tapped from the coconut flowers and the brew is then fermented. It is a popular practice in South-East Asia. Coconut Feni is a double distilled spirit mostly consumed in South Goa. Commercially sold Coconut Feni has 42.8% Abv.
Apart from the Chhang, the Churawak and the Feni, each region is famous for its own local liquor. This may include Toddy in Kerala, a different kind of Chhang in Sikkim, Mahua in Central India or Arrack in Karnataka. In the face of commercialisation and the advent of more easily available IMFL, these traditional brews are under threat. But a new revival is happening as urban Indians take more interest in these indigenous alcohols. Hopefully, as the Government shows more interest in this heritage, the brews will be saved. They are an important part of the socio-cultural fabric of the regions and also a source of income for the locals.
Featured Photo by Anuradha Sengupta