‘North thrives on whisky, south is more brandy-loving. Beer and vodka are preferred by the younger lot. Wine is a metropolitan (and growing) phenomenon’ Magandeep
Bookaholicanonymous is proud to present this exclusive interview with Magandeep Singh the best person to tell us about the history of spirits in India. Captured in his book 'Indian Spirit’ are fascinating stories about alcohol, etiquettes of drinking and tasting notes on different spirits and brews!
Magandeep Singh is India’s first French-qualified Sommelier and the oldest wine professional in the country. He divides his time between food and wine events, tastings and writing columns about wine. He earlier anchored ‘Around the World in 85 Plates’ for NDTV Good Times.
So what else do you get to know through his book ‘Indian Spirit’?...
drinking has been as old as eating and it has been an important part of the
Indian culture. The book is also a treasure trove for those who have the palate
to enjoy their drink and curiosity to know where it came from.
• What is the right way to order and enjoy your drink?
• What are the earliest instances of drinking in India?
• How was drinking mentioned in classical Indian literature and its place in our culture?
• What were drinks that India gave to the world?
How long did it take to write this book? It must have needed extensive research.
It took me a year to write it and over a year to research it. If the publisher hadn’t put in some timelines to adhere to (even somewhat strictly) I believe I would still be researching and rewriting the manuscript.
According to your research when did alcohol consumption start in India?
It was always a part of society, of life. It didn’t start overnight; it wasn’t happenstance. Like all great civilisations, it was an organic process. Our records may date alcohol to say about 2000BC but there is no doubt that alcohol, in some form, was being consumed even before then.
Tell us an interesting anecdote while writing or researching for this book.
There are simply so many. A good one would be when I came across the story of Alexander while invading India and how he stumbled upon (at least what he thought was) the village of Nysa (somewhere near present-day Kabul ) which was established by Dionysus, the Greek God of wine himself. The worshippers drank wine and prayed to a blue God who wore animal skin as a loincloth. Many believe that he had in fact met Shiva-devotees and mistaken them for the Greek God’s clan or maybe the legend of Dionysus conquering India many centres earlier was in fact true and this was the village where he left behind his ageing and wounded generals to live on. But the similarities were simply eye-opening to me while doing the research and I loved it so much that it is the first anecdote that I recall when someone mentions the book.
What new things did you discover about alcohol consumption in India?
The fact that alcohol wasn’t as abhorred through the ages as many a prominent figure today wants us to believe is perhaps chief of my findings. We always embraced it, found ways to even tax it and consume it responsibly. There were elaborate rituals both around the preparation and the consumption, things which have, since, been lost. As for the loss of our native intoxicant-Cannabis, I blame the government with their short-sightedness Western hemisphere-pleasing ways. The English, I blame for not having left behind the recipes for IPA (a type of ale) and G+Ts.
Which is the best Indian local brew?
The word ‘best’ is extremely subjective. It changes from one person to another. It also changes from one day to the next. With me, it changes even as I am reaching out for a drink! Simply put, we have a lot of good stuff out there now: from wine to whisky, rum to other spirits - it all boils down to what you like to drink or what takes your fancy.
You are a certified sommelier, you must have researched on wine, tell us a little about the history of wine culture in India. It's still made in some homes right?
The wine culture flourished at one point before being decimated and then it has sort of remerged in the last few decades. For the rest of it, you will have to buy the book! Home made wine is a fun activity, nothing to challenge the commercially made stuff, but more a matter of familial bonding and traditions. I did try some and it was always the emotion that supersedes the tactile aspect of such beverages.
Which is India's favourite spirit?
North thrives on whisky, south is more brandy-loving. Beer and vodka are preferred by the younger lot. Wine is a metropolitan (and growing) phenomenon.
Finally, as a connoisseur, which spirit does Magandeep love?
As I said above, even as I open my liquor armoire and reach out for a tipple, I may change my mind mid-grasp and pick another bottle. The possibilities of choice are always headier than whatever drink I may eventually pour myself.
Bookaholicanonymous thanks the ‘Sommelier’ and hopes for more such interesting books from him!
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