With such a prevalent drinking culture that is finally losing its tag of being “taboo”, Indians are finally stepping out of their comfort zones and experimenting with the many flavours, varieties and possibilities that alcoholic beverages have to offer. That said, it also wouldn’t hurt to actually know where we get our favourite drinks from, some interesting history around their origins, and the often tedious process that goes into making them.
Mixologist DUSHYANT TANWAR, Brand Manager of Monika Enterprises dishes out some Alcohol 101 for HASHTAG INDIA.
Depending on the raw material we use for the sugar, we have different kinds of fermented alcoholic beverages. Grains make beer, fruit makes wine (about 90% wines are made with grapes), honey makes mead, Japanese rice wine is Nihonshu (popularly referred to as sake), and the list goes on.
The process of fermentation can only take us to about 15-17% ABV(Alcohol by Volume). After which the surroundings become too intense for the yeast and they die. Consequently, the need to distil arises if we want a higher ABV.
The Spirits We Love: Distilled Alcoholic Beverages
Distillation is the process of separating ethanol from an alcoholic beverage. The result is a distilled alcoholic beverage that has a higher ABV than the liquid it started off from. One can distill a fermented alcoholic beverage or redistill a spirit.
Alcoholic beverages are then aged by bringing them in contact with wood in order to extract colour and flavour. Maturation can be carried out in different ways. By putting the liquid into a barrel made out of wood or immersing wooden chips or wooden staves in the liquid that is being held in another container made of stainless steel or glass. The kind of wood used decides what kind of flavor will be given out to the liquid. Producers also use barrels that held other liquid in them previously. Producers also char the wood (burn it) to enhance the flavors and the color that the wood can impart. These decisions are taken by producers according to the final flavor required in the beverage.
With the change in the geographical location, the “rate of maturation” changes. The hotter the area is the higher the rate of maturation. So, a Venezuelan rum aged for 4 years will be of the same maturity as a 12-year-old scotch.
Let’s take a small dip in some of the more popular categories available in our Indian Market.
Whiskey is the favorite spirit when it comes to India. Indian whiskey brands bag about 6-7 places in the Top 10 Alcohol sold over the world (in terms of Volumes). But most people internationally believe that the bulk of Indian Whiskey brands are neutral alcohol mixed with flavourings which are sold at a cheaper price.
Internationally it is believed that the bulk of Indian Whiskey brands are neutral alcohol mixed with flavourings which are sold at a cheaper price.
It is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made with grains. Wheat, barley, rye, corn, and oats are some of the more popular grains that are employed around the world for whiskey production. The Irish were the first ones to have started the distillation of whiskey. In around the 6thcentury, the phrase ‘uisce beatha’, literally ‘water of life’, was the name given by Irish monks to distilled alcohol. The word ‘whiskey’ itself is an anglicised version of the phrase,stemming from a mispronunciation of the word uisce in Ireland. The world’s Oldest Licensed Whiskey Distillery is the Old Bushmills Distillery, located in the Antrim County of Ireland. They have been producing whiskey since the year 1608.
Scotch, Irish whiskeys, Bourbon and Japanese Whiskeys are amongst the most recognised sub categories in the whiskey world.
“Single Malt” is a term that is heard a lot and is generally associated with good quality. What single malt means is that the whiskey in the bottle has come only from a single distillery and is made with malted grain. These can be made at a single distillery anywhere around the world.
Fun Fact: Brenne, a Single Malt Whiskey from France, gives off aromas of Bubble Gum when mixed with soda or sparkling water.
- Bushmills Black Bush – 45 ml
- Lime Juice – 15 ml
- Honey Syrup – 15 ml
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with an Orange zest.
In India, rum did not have a very big standing. One name that is extremely popular in India is Old Monk, a brand which is a favorite of many students, artists and many more who did not like the taste of whiskey + water and soda. Loyalists preach its name and given what the weather may be, The Monk is what they stand by.
Rum was a result of the sugar industry and the slave trade. The slaves that were forced to work on the sugar cane plantations started making this spirit to calm their heads.
A distilled alcoholic beverage made of sugarcane juice or its by-products in a sugarcane producing country is known as Rum, Rhum or Ron. This spirit was a result of the sugar industry and the slave trade. The slaves that were forced to work on the sugar cane
plantations started making this spirit to calm their heads. Soon enough rum grew in popularity and demand came from across the globe.
The Caribbean islands where the sugar production was rampant became the hubs of rum production. Till date some of the best rums in the world are produced around the Caribbean Sea. Places like Barbados, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba are few of the Caribbean nations that offer quality rums.
There are several styles of rums available; You have your white rums that have been bottled after distillation. Dark rums, or gold rums that simply look so because they have color added to them and you have rums that have been aged for that delicate yet complex flavors. You also have spiced rums and flavoured rums with things like coconut or coffee.
Fun Fact: The Diplomatico range of rums use 3 distinctive style stills of distillation and 6 different kinds of barrels for ageing.
- Diplomatico Mantuano – 45ml
- Fresh pineapple juice – 30ml
- Honey syrup (1:1) – 20ml
- Fresh lime juice – 15ml
- Aromatic bitters – 2 dashes
- Prosecco – Top Up
Shake all the ingredients & strain into a sling glass. Garnish with mint.
A clear spirit with a mild flavor and aroma is produced from any raw material that has starch in it. Russia and Poland are the top contenders who claim to have first produced the spirit. Vodkas are generally made using a Coffey still and are generally judged on their smoothness.
Producers have used potatoes, beetroot, grapes, wheat, rice and many other raw materials for making their vodka. Black cow vodka is a brand made from milk.
Vodka as a spirit is great for mixing drinks. From a lack of too many flavors, it mixes well with various ingredients without any hassle. Although, we do find various brands of flavored vodka in the market. If you can imagine it, someone has flavored their vodka with it.
Fun Fact: Russian Standard Platinum is filtered through a filter made of Silver.
- Coffee Syrup – 30ml
- Belenkaya Gold – 50ml
- Hot water – 90ml
- Whipped cream – Garnish
Mix all ingredients in a heat resistant glass, and garnish with a small amount of whipped cream. Coffee Syrup
- Instant Coffee – 200 gms
- Brown Sugar – 200 gms
- Water – 1Ltr
Add all ingredients in a heated pan. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
A spirit that is flavoured with juniper berries and other botanicals. It originated around the 16thcentury in Holland where a malt-based spirit flavoured with juniper and other medicinal plants was being used to cure stomach and kidney ailments. Known as Genever at that time, gin is an anglicised version of the same name. Gin became super popular and its evolution in the British hands gave rise to the Old Tom and the London Dry styles of gin. Genever, Old Tom, London Dry, Cold Compound and other modern styles of gin all shine on the shelfs of shops around the world.
Cold Compound gins are the ones that do most volumes in India. This is a neutral spirit that is mixed in with the essence of juniper and other botanicals. It’s cheap to make and can have a bit of harshness to it. Old Tom gins from the Victorian era have been resurrected with the rise of the cocktail culture and have even made their way to India.
Gin has lost its tag of being a women’s drink and the popularity has grown immensely in the market.
Fun Fact: The Gin and Tonic was invented here in India. The British soldiers to prevent contraction of malaria mixed and consumed quinine and gin, giving rise to the first gin and tonic.
The perfect drink for lovers of vermouth.
- Boodles London Dry Gin – 45 ml
- Dry Vermouth – 45 ml
Stir both ingredients over ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with 3 olives on a cocktail stick.
A fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit, 95% of the wines across the world are made from various varieties of grapes. There are two types of grapes depending on their color—red and white (which look green) which are used to produce red wine, white wine or rose wine. Red wines get their colour from the skin of red grapes. The more the skin is in contact with the juice the deeper the color is.
Wines are very simple to make. Just juice your fruit and leave it out to ferment. Wild yeast from the air will start eating the sugars in the juice and produce wine. Although for most producers it is not as simple. Each step from the growing of the grapes, their harvest, juice extraction, the different stages of fermentation and the maturation (in a few cases) are all looked at with a lot of care and scrutinised more than a mother would their child.
The world of alcohol is as diverse and rich as the various cuisines across regions. Try out a different beverage at least one out of the five times you are indulging. Explore the vast array of drinks and ideas available around you. It will help your palate evolve and you might even discover something new and unique.
Fermentation is the name given to the simple process where a micro-organism named yeast eats sugar to produce ethanol and carbon dioxide as the two main products. A lot of flavor compounds are also generated during this process which are responsible for the final taste of the beverage being produced. A lot of producers cultivate their own yeast in labs. This helps them get consistent flavors in every batch that they make.
Distillation is carried out in equipment called “Stills”. A still is an apparatus used to distill liquid mixtures by heating to selectively boil and then cooling to condense the vapor. There are 2 basic kinds of Stills–the traditional pot stills and the commercial Coffey stills (developed by scientist Aneas Coffey). The shape, material, volume and other factors affect the final products in their own different ways.