Drinking alcohol has never been a taboo in my family. Everyone drank – my mother, my father, my grandmother and her mother too. When my great-grandmother passed away and we opened her cupboards, we discovered huge ceramic pots full of old sherry she had hidden away. I think she used to have a glass every night but obviously she couldn’t drink it fast enough, she left a lot behind and tragically most of that fine wine s was turned into vinegar. What a loss.
The point being, unlike most middle-class Hindu families, ours was a little more urban and unorthodox. Any excuse was an excuse to open a bottle and drink. Like the “Every Sunday Morning Beer Sessions” where the elders sat in my aunt’s fully air-conditioned veranda on her open terrace, where bottles of cold beer flowed with cocktails, like the now-forgotten Gimlet-gin and lime juice – or Tom Collins – gin with lemon juice, sugar and soda, and our Martini – Homemade Gin with Cinzano Vermouth Rosso.
Cinzano for those who know it, was an aperitif created by two Italian brothers, Giovanni Giacomo and Carlo Stefano Cinzano in 1757 using Italian red wine, sugar and alcohol infused with aromatic plants from the Italian Alps in a secret recipe combining 35 ingredients. Every once in a while someone would make the effort to make a few Bloody Marys – basically a spiced tomato juice with lime juice, orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt, mixed with of vodka, poured into a salt-rimmed glass with a stalk of celery. Sometimes I begged for a Bloody Mary without vodka. It’s called a Virgin Mary, which my grandfather would mock and call a “Bloody Shame.”
On evening parties, there were only three types of people: whiskey drinkers, dark rum drinkers, and wine drinkers. The wine, however, at that time, was awful. In the early 1970s, Shaw Wallace established a winery in Hyderabad and launched a range of wines under the “Golconda” brand. It was horrible, and I don’t even know if it was a wine. It could well be flavored alcohol. The UB group has started a winery in Baramati in collaboration with Bosca from Italy using the Bangalore Blue grape variety. In my memory, there was Bosca, Golconda and the ports of Goa, which constituted the whole wine industry in India. Good whiskey has always been smuggled into India, Vat 69, Dimple, Johnny Walker were brands of scotch that featured in Hindi movies and also in most bars.
With so much booze swirling around me, without any compulsion or refrain, it was no surprise that I started drinking the moment I got out of school. There were no secrets, everything was done openly in the company of family and at home. We were a family of drinkers. Men, women and young people.
Now that I’m 58, with 43 years of drinking behind me, I’ve been blessed to have tasted some of the finest whisky, pounded the finest beer, swallowed the most expensive bubbly and grape. I also frequented the best bars and clubs in the world and frequented the cheapest watering holes, hung out in the darkest places, dance bars and cabarets. Drunk in cars, planes, trains, boats, on beaches and pools, at sunrise and sunset and every hour in between and after. Until a moment when I decided enough was enough. I gave away the bottle. I haven’t had a sip of alcohol in two years. Although I’m not really tempted when someone else is drinking around me, I only miss the booze at times. Like I often miss holding something in my hands and sipping it, especially during wet lunches when others are drinking G&T, or when I’m abroad and the weather is chilly calling for a good Single Malt.
Last month I was in the countryside in England, then in Wales, the weather was fine and we were going to the local pub for an aperitif. Dying for a drink, but feeling miserable for giving up, the girl behind the bar offered me a 0% Peroni beer. It started, in me, an ever growing love for non-alcoholic beverages. And I can now consider myself completely addicted.
Today, there is a wide array of non-alcoholic likenesses of your favorite liquor so readily available here in India. Starting with beer. Some of the world’s biggest brewers have launched 0% alcohol versions of their famous brands. Budweiser 0.0, Heineken 0.0, Hoegaarden 0.0 and Hoegaarden Rosee 0.0 are available everywhere, including online.
Svami, which a few years ago first launched a range of Tonic Waters, now offers Rum & Cola, G&T and Pink G&T. All with wonderful botanicals and infusions of strawberries, scented with juniper and various citrus fruits. Another Indian brand of 0% alcoholic beverages is Kati Patang. They have a really refreshing juniper flavored G&T with lemon and basil, as well as other cocktails like a cranberry, Triple Sec and orange flavored Cosmopolitan. A fucking good Old Fashioned with a typical taste and nose of Bourbon Whiskey with fruit juice, and hints of vanilla and hazelnut flavors.
As the non-alcoholic universe flourished, a Danish beverage company called ISH drinks launched their ISH line of drinks. GinISH (from natural herbs such as juniper berries, coriander seeds and chilli), RumISH (from natural herbs such as Madagascar vanilla, nutmeg, baked apple and chilli) all delicious and alcohol-free. And they are readily available online.
In fact, if you visit a website called zero percent, you can find a range of soft drinks like Noughty – a sparkling German chardonnay made from grapes from southern Spain; Coast – a non-alcoholic Belgian craft beer with citrus and tropical fruit flavors and many other mixers and drinks.
My favorite, however, is this Goa-based gin with zero carbs, zero sugar, zero alcohol, and just five calories. It is aptly called Sober Gin. It tastes like gin, fires up your insides like gin, but doesn’t get you drunk. It is flavored with extracts of juniper, ashwaganda, tulsi, arjuna, angelica root and green tea. I completely took to it and went back to my wet lunches with Gin and Tonic. I can feel my dry days coming to an end.
Kunal Vijayakar is a Mumbai-based food writer. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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