Free Press Journal

The Indian Spirit: The untold story of alcohol in India by Magandeep Singh: Review


Book: The Indian Spirit: The untold story of alcohol in India

Author: Magandeep Singh

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Price: Rs 599

Pages: 233

Come December and the festivities begin. Santa makes his way with the jingle bells as people get ready to celebrate Christmas and later usher into a New Year. It is the time when the ‘Spirit’ runs high as people enjoy the ‘clink’ of their glasses coming together before drinking.

There has always been a thin line between whether we drink to enjoy? Or we enjoy to drink? Whatever the reason maybe, we never forgot the exact measurement of our peg. Who cares if we were pathetic in Mathematics.

For all those who claim to be season drinkers or after a couple of pegs down who come in their ‘King of Spirit’ element.  Here are few AK (Alcohol Knowledge) questions… Did you know that gin and tonic was an Indian invention? Did you know most Indian Whiskies are actually rum? Why did English Aristocrats turn from cognac to a lesser-known whisky made in Scotland? What is the drinking etiquette when you go out with your boss?

If reading this has made you dump everything you were doing on this leisure Sunday and head straight towards your Whisky bottle to take a sniff and see if there is an iota of rum smell. Next thing you should do is head towards nearest book store and grab a copy of ‘The Indian Spirit’ (The untold story of Alcohol in India) by Magandeep Singh.

A certified sommelier, who found his calling in wines while working in France, Magandeep in this book tells us how to enjoy your drink while you relish the unique story of how it reached our glasses. Every chapter throws up interesting facts about alcohol and its consumption.  The Whisk(e)y Connection pours out a lot about India’s love for alcohol. Besides tracing the entry of several scotch in India with overall historic perspective, it also highlights some unknown facts about whisky.

According to the author, If the Indian whisky segment was to be cut up and segregated these largely would be two categories: (a) the ‘un-whiskies’ comprising all the stuff that starts off as rum and then is ‘magically’ transformed into whisky (although these are made from extra neutral alcohol or ENA, since the starting ingredient is molasses, technically speaking they are still rum), (b) the ‘whiskies’ which are legit liquor including single malts that are made in India. Apart from these, there is also the foreign segment comprising blended scotch, blended malts and single malt whiskies.

The book besides touching upon the medicinal aspects of certain drinks also updates the readers (drinkers) with interesting facts about how a particular drink came into origin. For example, Gin was originally made by the Dutch who were heavily into distilling brandy. Brandy, from the Dutch word brandewijn meaning ‘burnt wine’, was the Dutch seafarer’s way of concentrating the goodness of French wine before shipping it back home where the idea was to rehydrate it with five parts water. The original concentrate, if you will.

Trouble was, the final drink didn’t taste anything like wine. The travel in casks overseas for a few weeks turned the burnt wine into a softer, mellower drink which, although nothing like wine, was a good brew in itself. And this is how brandy was born. But not all brandy was good so the Dutch often used juniper berries, a local flavouring, to aromatize their distillate as also to hide the flaws of a poorly made batch. And this was unplanned birth of genever or Gin.

Magandeep’s style of writing and narration is like a glass full of ice dripped with large peg of choicest alcohol, you can sniff it right at the start, enjoy as the ice melts for you to have it sip by sip and as you finish you have just the enough kick to pick up the book all over again to go for the second round.

So folks, as you gather to celebrate Christmas or have made a plan for a New Year party, along with some mouthwatering starters order for a copy of The Indian Spirit. Trust me, you can’t have a better blend than this. Wishing You All Merry Christmas and A Very Happy New Year! Here I make myself a large one…CHEERS!!!

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