My father is clearly the king of lame jokes. We could not leave for our annual holiday to Goa without him singing, “Feni ne mujhe bulaya, main chala aaya!” (I’ve come here because Feni called me, from the movie ‘King Uncle’) – Every single time. Of course, the dad joke here is that the song speaks of Fenny the girl, while my dad is singing of Feni, the home-grown drink of Goa. Feni is to Goa what tequila is to Mexico—a legendary signature alcoholic drink. Made from locally sourced ingredients, you could try two types of feni in Goa—palm feni made from the sap of a coconut tree, or kaju (cashew) feni which is made from the seasonally available cashew apple. While I found cashew feni way too strong for my taste, it is quite a popular drink at Goa, and few traditional parties can be considered complete without the tipple.
Like Goa, the rest of India has plenty of locally produced alcoholic drinks—it’s not even feni how many indigenous drinks there are! Here are a few that you ought to try:
Chhaang/Tongba – The Drink of the Yeti
Native to some parts of the Indian Himalayan region, chhaang or tongba is a precious brew created in Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Spiti regions. The actual alcohol content of this beverage is quite low, but locals highly recommend it as it raises your bodytemperature, and keeps you warm in the cold weather. Locals will also have you believe that chhaang is the beverage most favoured by both the Himalayan Yeti, and the snowman!
Spicy Liqueurs – Of Royalty and Aphrodisiacs
Royal families in Rajasthan were known to brew special spiced liqueurs that were concocted and consumed within the family. For decades, these recipes and brews remained highly-prized secrets. It is only of late that civilians like us can get our hands on these delicious heritage drinks thanks to the Rajasthan state government which sells these bottles, albeit at a high premium. Some of the spicy liqueurs like the Royal Chandrahas contain more than 76 varied spices. From Royal Saunf to Kesar Kasturi, you are likely to find a number of liqueurs that are a perfect antidote to the external weather conditions. Some of these drinks also contain aphrodisiacs found in nature such as safed musli.
Thandai – The Brew of the Gods
Created as a drink dedicated to the Gods as an offering of love, the bhang or thandai is a potent local drink. Several variants of this drink are available. The government-sanctioned shops in Jaisalmer and Jodhpur make this beverage using milk, spices, and cannabis. Some other cities such as Agra and Varanasi also sell bhang, albeit illegally. Warning: Pretending to be a yesteryear hero (think Rajesh Khanna) could be an expected fallout of drinking bhang.
Toddy/Taadi – From Fermented Flowers
A fermented drink made from the flowers of palm/coconut trees, toddy is known by many names—kallu, kullu, and taadi, being a few of them. This drink is very popular, especially in coastal states like Maharashtra, Kerala, and Karnataka. While the freshly made drink is non-alcoholic, the fermentation process results in a brew that has 5-10 per cent of alcohol. If left to ferment some more, distilled toddy becomes arrack—a more potent version.
From mahua in Jharkhand, to the bangla and cholai rice wine of West Bengal, there are a number of locally-sourced Indian drinks that are illegally sold too. The ones mentioned in this list will keep you company so you can enjoy the country, one drink at a time. Legally.