BOOK EXCERPT

There’s a reason why rums like Old Monk are more popular in India than clear spirits like gin

The history of Indian rums is less about the quality of ingredients and more about the way people embraced the homegrown brands.

India has always had a preference for dark spirits; be it whisky or rum, they were always preferred to most other drinks. Maybe it has something to do with what the armed forces got as part of their stocks, or in their canteen stores. Rum proliferated faster than gin or vodka. Gin, for that matter, was considered by many to be a ladies’ drink. Two things changed that: awareness about how wrong it is to be sexist and a realization of just how awesome good gins are irrespective of who is drinking them.

But that was much later – the darker spirits had already established an unquestionable supremacy over palates and markets. The history of Indian rums is less about the manufacturing processes or the quality of ingredients and more about the way people embraced some of these homegrown brands. Let’s try and look at some top names in the field which went from being military rum rations to weekly rations. Also, because today, while some of these brands may not be as popular among the younger lot as they once were, the nostalgia, pun intended, keeps these very spirits alive.

Old Monk

Show me a person who likes Old Monk and I’ll show you someone who went to college in India. No story on Indian rums could ever be written without paying due allegiance to this very unique brand. The hard-to-miss square stocky bottle with it’s monastic stained glass like mosaic walls is a staple in every bar across the country.

The history of the brand dates back to the set-up of General Edward Dyer which dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. Although the first rum was made in a distillery based out of modern-day Kanpur (in 1805), it was only in 1954 that Old Monk was introduced. At this time, the army rations already included rum so, as flavours go, rum wasn’t new to the drinking populace.

It remains India’s favourite rum through the ages even if sales have dwindled in recent times. One reason is the younger generation’s affinity for lighter spirits and another is competition from other local brands that have managed to put commendably good products on the shelves.

The XXX (triple X seems to be a popular nomenclature for rums in India) eight years vatted (meaning oak-aged one presumes) is the most popular variant – the majority of people don’t even know there are others – but they do have other more aged versions too; although, when put to test, some very good tasters were hard pressed to be able to tell the difference between all of them. The levels above are aged longer and come in (1) a monk-shaped bottle (Supreme) and (2) a monk’s head-shaped bottle (special edition). There’s also a Gold Reserve somewhere in there which comes in a less flamboyant flacon. ‘Flamboyant’ and ‘monks’, never thought I’d use these words together so.

The flavour across the spectrum is largely marked by caramel and vanilla with some gentle spices, so think Christmas cake in a glass. It lends itself well to cola, so well in fact that if you ask a bartender for another recipe, you’ll surely have him tongue-tied. I have tried it in some hot toddy (with honey, lemon juice, hot water, and maybe some ginger if you wish) and it was smooth and soothing.

In college, it wasn’t uncommon to see people having it with water. The reason for that was simple – as mixers go, water is free. Cola, juice, even soda cost money; filtered water is easily procured. And thus got established a signature drinking style, one which could last for a long time, but usually it lasted only till the person got a job and then their first salary, at which point they graduated to other beverages and revisited Old Monk either at college batch reunion parties or at bars serving crap wines and average scotch at obnoxious prices.

Excerpted with permission from The Indian Spirit: The Untold Story of Alcohol in India, Magandeep Singh, Penguin Random House.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.