India is home to a large number of potent brews loved by the locals of the lands they belong to — from the royal families of Rajasthan to the tribals of West Bengal. Here are seven Indian drinks that can set the most seasoned palates afire with their potency, as experienced by Chef Kiran Jethwa, during his explorations of the country for his new show, Spirited Traveller on Fox Life.
Neera – Kochi
Neera is a type of toddy. Toddy, or kallu, is tapped in three stages from coconut trees. In the first stage of tapping, it is called neera. As the hours pass, Neera ferments to become strongly alcoholic. Toddy can be had in non-alcoholic, medium-alcoholic and strong-alcoholic versions. Neera can be a strong, overpowering drink, so it is difficult to pair it with food. It's also best not to mess with it too much. At best, add some lime and sour mix with a hint of fresh mint to lift it up a little.
Chhaang – Sikkim
Chhaang is a fascinating drink with a unique brewing method. Semi-fermented seeds of finger-millet are served to the drinker and they keep topping it up with water, which makes all the alcohol and flavour leach out slowly, which is why chhaang is a drink you can keep sipping on through the day. The unique fermentation process gives it a beautiful sweet and sour taste. It's almost a ceremonious way of drinking, so instead of adding anything to it, it's better to drink it the traditional way — in a big bamboo cup and straw. Chhaang can be had with pretty much any meal. Just add a little soda to temper the flavour and a dash of honey. There's enough alcohol in it, anyway.
Zutho – Nagaland
Zutho is Nagaland's rice beer. It is made through the process of fermentation and the Nagas have gotten the process perfectly right. Zutho's flavour is unbelievably smooth, with the perfect balance between sweet and sour and just the right amount of alcohol. Zutho is something that should be had straight up, to be able to appreciate its beauty. It is what it is and people should enjoy it without adding extra flavours. If you're serving zutho, just serve it cold in tall glass.
Handia – Central India
It is a traditional rice beer, popular among the indigenous people of Central India and West Bengal. It is an aromatic beer, though it is not as refined as Nagaland's zutho. The recipe and method of preparation of handia differs in different villages, depending on what herbs are available in the area and because recipes are passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. The West Bengal version can have as many as 25 herbs in it, It works well as a shandy — handia and lemonade served chilled with plenty of ice in a nice big glass. It makes for a great lunch-time drink due to its low alcohol content.
Chandrahas – Jaipur
Chandrahas is a very unique drink. It contains a variety of rich and aromatic ingredients such as dry fruits, ghee, sandalwood, spices and even substances that are considered natural aphrodisiacs. All of these ingredients are soaked in water and spirits for a week or more, after which, the mix is sent to a distillation plant and then brewed. Chandrahas gets its bright yellow colour from saffron. No synthetic colours or additives are used in the process of making and bottling chandrahas, which is why it is extremely herbacious, strong and sweet.
In 2006, the recipe for chandrahas was bought by a Rajasthan state-run distillery and since then, it has been available to the masses.
Chandrahas is a heritage liquor that was a staple among the royal families of Rajasthan, and each family had their own secret recipe of brewing chandrahas. But in 2006, the recipe for chandrahas was bought by a Rajasthan state-run distillery and since then, it has been available to the masses. Chandrahas is not something you can pair with food because it would overpower pretty much everything it is served with, considering So the best way to drink it is at the end of a meal, straight up.
Coffee wine – Coorg
Many fascinating fruit wines are made in Coorg. They're all made through natural fermentation and are very sweet and strongly alcoholic. The coffee wine, in particular, is delicious. Because it is so sweet and strong on the coffee flavour, it is best served with lots of ice, a squeeze of lime and sparkling water to temper the sweetness a little. Coorg's coffee wine would make for a great brunch spritzer.
Bhaang – Varanasi
Bhaang is a potent herb and one of the main ingredients of thandai, which is a sweet milk drink made from freshly crushed almonds, cashews, watermelon and muskmelon seeds, saffron, cardamom, fennel, rose petals and many other spices and dry fruits. While bhaang is popular in many north-Indian cities, particularly those that have some significance to Hindu mythology, like Mathura, Varanasi's bhaang is the most famous due to its wide usage.
In Varanasi, men sitting with pestles and mortars, crushing and mixing the herbs to make pellets of bhaang, are a common sight on the ghaats.
According to Hindu mythology, the holy city of Varanasi was founded by Lord Shiva, who was extremely fond of bhaang. In Varanasi, men sitting with pestles and mortars, crushing and mixing the herbs to make pellets of bhaang, are a common sight on the ghaats. In addition to thandai, bhaang can be added to lassi, halwa and ladoos. If you want to have a party, add a little extra bhaang in the thandai to make your guests go a little doolally. Thandai, with or without bhang, It's very sweet and spicy, and is a great replacement for dessert at the end of the meal. If you serve it at the start of the meal and there's too much bhaang in it, people are likely to go off the rockers!