Our Favorite Local Brews: The five drinks that reflect the Nepali culture you should know about.
Nepal is a country rich in culture, and it resonates into the drinking culture which is just as diverse. Brewing (and drinking) alcohol is a centuries-old tradition in Nepal which reflects the culture and customs of the local people. Brewing is still done in many homes to prepare alcohol for traditional rituals and family members during get together and festivals, and with the biggest of them all right around the corner, here are a few local drinks that you should know about.
Aila: The Real Deal
The aila is generally made from millet and is a clear or slightly cloudy liquid. It is a necessary component in many Newari rituals. It is the strongest amongst the lot and you can tell that by the very smell of it. If it feels like you’re downing a shot of lava, it’s probably a good batch of aila. CNN has placed Nepal’s ‘Raksi’, or aila, in World’s 50 most delicious drinks.
THE TEST: Quality aila will burn with a bluish flame and when poured from an Antee, the steady flow of the alcohol from a height will create bubbles in the container it is being poured into.
Best Served In: A sanlicha. A small flat clay bowl used specifically to serve aila.
Goes Best with: Spicy choela or an entire samaybaji set.
The Rice Beer Probably the most loved drink of all, the white cloudy drink is a pleasant mix of sweet and sour. Because it is so mild and good on the palate, consumers of the drink show tendencies of having one khola (bowl) too many. But mind you, it does pack a punch. It is basically a beer made by fermenting rice in a barrel. This too is a part of the Newari and Tibetan/Sherpa culture. Newari farmers (Jyaapus) make it during the rice planting and harvesting season and use it in various cultural and religious events. The Sherpas incorporate it into almost all of their rites and rituals.
Best Served In: Newars use a larger version of a sanlicha to serve the drink during the festivities. It is also commonly consumed in brass bowls or mugs.
Goes Best With: Close friends and a hot summer day sitting on a sukkul.
Tongba: The Slow Burner
This one comes straight from the Eastern hills of Nepal. You’re served with cooked fermented millet which you make yourself by pouring hot boiling water onto it and letting it brew. Traditionally served in a wooden vessel, greased with yak butter when not in use, the drink is sipped through a wooden straw.
Once you’re done, you can refill the vessel with hot water for up to 4-5 times. As you increase the number of refills the tongba will get stronger as the millet gets soaked, reaching its peak around the third refill. By which time you will be feeling the buzz that will keep going for a surprisingly long time.
Best Served in: A traditional wooden vessel called tongba or “dhungro”.
Goes Best With: Cold weather inside a restaurant with green curtains.
Karrthon: Thick Beer
Probably the most difficult one to get your hands on, the Karthon is usually prepared by the Jyaapu community during the winter. It has a thick muddy texture and is an acquired taste for a majority of the people. However, it does posses the potential to give out a lovely buzz.
It is prepared by putting steamed brown rice to cool on a sheet of special paper. This is then covered with straw and dried in the sun for 5-6 days. The dried product is mixed with beaten rice then ground up and fermented in a clay vessel for 1 month, stirring in timely intervals.
Best Served in: A large sanlicha or a glass mug.
Goes Best with: A lot of sitan(snacks).
Hyaun Thon: Sweet Red Sensation
Hyaun thon is not as popular as its allies and falls amongst the more exotic of the drinks from the Newari brewery. It is the refined product of the karrthon and is red in colour. Because it is so refined, it can be very strong so you should drink it in moderation. It can be stronger than the dreadedaila, which speaks for itself.
Best Served in: a sanlicha.
Goes Best as: the last drink of thenight to finish things off. Just one small serving should do.