- Ayushma Basnet

The finest alcohol is homemade stuff. After all, it is not in vain that Nepalese have traditionally come up with local, often homemade, drinks to serve various purposes – be it for the sake of health or pure enjoyment. Whether in the hub of Kathmandu, up in the Himalayas or down in the plains, different ethnic groups have made the best of their resources to come up with alcohol reflecting their particular cultures. For centuries, local liquors have become part of our culture, our habit and even a necessity – a channel to reflect our identity. Let’s take a closer look at these homemade liquors.

What: Aila
Taste:Aila is a strong drink, a thrilling and smooth grain alcohol. Different grains produce different flavors, rice aila is rich and smooth; millet aila is stronger and fiery.

Something Interesting:Every year, during Indra Jatra in Kathmandu, aila is the most offered alcohol to the God. After it is offered, all devotees gather to take turns drinking the aila that comes as prasad.

What: Chyaang
Taste: Chyaang is a relative of the more universally known beer. Barley, millet or rice is used to brew the drink. It is whitish and thin with a refreshing sweet-sour taste.

Something Interesting:Chang is an alcoholic beverage found in the Tibetan, Sherpa, Limbu and Newari community and is also popular in parts of eastern Himalayas. Each ethnic group has its own variation of the drink. Among the Newars, chyaang is popularly called thwoo (pronounced as thoo-unh).

What: Raksi
Taste:Raksi is potent, exhilarating, and smooth as velvet. Often misjudged as wine, it in fact is grain alcohol.

Something Interesting:To test for good raksi, toss a small amount on a fire and see if it burns (braver or more drunken connoisseurs dip a finger into their glass and set it aflame). An average raksi (tin paney) will have an alcohol content of more than 45 percent while a normal whiskey has 42 percent

What: Jaand
Taste: Jaand can be made of rice or millet. Jaad can be classified as strong liquor that burns down your throat right to the pits of the stomach.

Something Interesting:Jaand is often taken to be a drink for the farmers and they consume it before going to work in the fields. This is because of the consistent energy that one can get through jaand unlike raksi, which give you only short term exhilaration. It is believed to help farmers work more efficiently.

What: Tongba
Taste: Tongba is a millet-based alcoholic beverage found in the far eastern mountainous region of Nepal and the neighboring Darjeeling and Sikkim districts of India. A recently made tongba can be sweet. After it ages, it turns bitter. The sweet and bitter versions of tongba have found niche among people with respective taste buds. However, after an extended period of time, tongba turns sour and this is the time when you know the drink has gone bad.

Something Interesting: To Limbus, Tongba is like what sake is to the Japanese, vodka to Russians and wine to French. It is the traditional and indigenous drink of the Limbu people of eastern Nepal.

What: Jhwaikhatte
Taste: As ghee and rice are added to the drink, jhwaikhatte tastes less like your conventional alcohol. Because of its incredibly strong taste, this drink is not for those who don’t have a keen taste for drinks.

Something Interesting:The enormous heating-up drink got its name from the sound (jhwai) that’s made when the cold alcohol is tempered with hot ghee and rice. The combination of rice and ghee is called khatte.

What: Heutho
Taste: Heutho is basically rato jaand. Unlike the alcohol we come by in the market, this drink is rather queer in the sense that it is thick, greenish brown in terms of appearance and more on the sour side in terms of taste. This drink isn’t particularly what one would call strong.

Something Interesting: In some communities, pregnant ladies are made to drink heutho because it is believed to be high in nutrients. This is because it is made from a whole lot of grains. But of course, only a limited amount is believed to be healthy.

What: Marpha
Taste: This apple brandy is popular all over Nepal. Don’t be fooled by the name though. A whiff of the drink and you will instantaneously figure out it is strong. However, the subtle smell of apple lingers on. As you gulp the drink, like most other drinks, it goes with a burning sensation.

Something Interesting:Marpha is found in a place called Marpha in Mustang, which is also called the apple capital of Nepal. The numerous trekkers who choose to pass through the picturesque place have further popularized this adornment.

What: Auwa
Taste:Auwa is a plain tasting drink that is mild. As you sip through this local liquor, a watery taste dominates but the flavor of millet also forms in your mouth.

Something Interesting: Auwa, made by the Thakalis, is a drink that gradually gets to your brains. Initially, it may seem like drinking merely flavored water, but as the heat catches up to you, there is a lot in store for you. !

The writer extends special thanks to Samir Newa, MD, The Organic Village; Sandeep Khatri, Chef, Bu Keba - The Organic Village Cafe; Anuj Basnyat and Anju Basnyat.

Alcohol Quotient

  • We all know about the easily available liquors like those made out of barley and millet. However, it is not very widely known that alcohol is even made out of corn – Makai ko raksi. Due to limited availability of corn, it isn’t found in abundance.
  • Folklore has it that King Prithivi Narayan Shah had stored rice in the soil while he was planning an attack on Kirtipur. When the rice was dug out later, he found that the color had changed to red. From this, he made alcohol and thus came heutho.
  • Kodo ko raksi doesn’t have any effects as you are drinking it. It gets to you only after a certain time and this is why it is often called Lato raksi meaning dumb raksi.
  • It is believed that offering alcohol to Mahankal will help in immigration while traveling abroad. This has been practiced among the Newari community for a long period and this belief holds strong among most Newars even today.
  • In a more traditional and rural Nepal, people drank raksi like we drink tea nowadays. It was not uncommon, even until just a few years back, to offer raksi at all times of the day to visitors and family members alike.