As a result of what I am now convinced is a carefully thought out conspiracy to cement the demise of whatever might remain of my credibility as a serious scholar, I find myself once again pressed into service to write about booze. As readers of this paper may recall, in my last effort of this genre, I had reluctantly settled into the routine of writing a column about beverages once every three years, reasonable enough though demanding in its own way. The pace has apparently now accelerated to once every two years, with no abatement in sight. In the spirit (pun intended only in retrospect) of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, joining them if you can't beat them, and so on, I offer the following.
This installment actually begins where the last one ends. If I may quote myself, my last column ('In vino veritas', #150) ended with the wish 'that there were some way of making aylah and twam, in their authentic and varied forms, available in ways so that they could take their rightful places alongside the Johnny Walkers and San Miguels in the Bluebirds, Namastes and Green Lines of the Valley and thus be valourised by the market economy that now seems to be so readily dominated by foreign intruders.' In effect, this is a report on a recent effort to do just that.
A tasting of a locally made soda brand at Dhokaima's Rukhmuni Bhatti was the source of inspiration. This particular brand of what are known as 'guccha' sodas take its name from Nepal's original cinema hall, Janasewa, where they were first sold and comes in the distinctive bottle with the glass marble stopper that goes phuph when you pop it to gain access to the drink inside. As we were tasting Janasewa Soda at Rukhmuni, it occurred to me that they could be the basis of a new drink menu that highlighted indigenous spirits as well as mixers, thereby taking a step toward rectifying the deplorable situation that I had lamented in my earlier column.
Thvam remains immune from this author's attempts at creating swadeshi bhaleko puchhar (indigenous cocktails). Though its closest relative, beer, can be successfully combined with lemonade or ginger ale or even lemon (not orange!) soda to make a less inebriating but thirst-quenching shandy, thvam stands inviolably on its own. Other local spirits have proven more amenable to mixing, however. The most challenging of these is aylah. Aylah is the Newa bhay term for what many others know as raksi, arak, or, more universally, fire water. Generally made from rice, it has many different distinctive tastes, depending on its maker, but it is generally, to put it mildly, assertive. A local version of the famous Bloody Mary, usually made with vodka, proved remarkably successful, provided the usual spice does not overwhelm the aylah. (For who shun alcohol, there is always Kumari Mary.)
I recalled times past in which it was very difficult to find beers in the Valley that consistently had bubbles or enjoyable spirits or wines, unless one was a diplomat or rich. One exception to that rule even back then was Khukri Rum, which I have always thought should enjoy an international reputation. This wonderful rum, some Cola Janasewa Soda, a bit of lime and some local spice, makes-naturally-a Nepa Libr?.
Finally, Janasewa Soda's apple version is an obvious mixer for that higher-altitude firewater, Marpha Brandy. Adjusting this with a cinnamon sugar syrup and garnishing it with a slice of apple makes for a fine Aadi Paap-intended to mean 'original sin' but also reasonably interpreted as 'half-sin', for there is, after all, nothing sinful about brandy.