Fifteen hundred years ago in India anyone who drank alcohol had access to a huge array of drinks, including sugarcane wines, complex grain and herb beers, mead, palm toddy, imported grape wine, and several more. Yet this ancient drink culture is largely unknown today and only survives in a very limited form. Drawing on textual and practical research for his recent book, An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian History and Religions, James McHugh presents a survey of the types of drinks people produced in pre-modern India, along with some observations on what we know about the cultures of brewing and drinking.
Attendees can purchase An Unholy Brew through the Oxford University Press, www.oup.com, and claim a 30% discount with the promotion code AAFLYG6.
Originally from the UK, James McHugh completed his Ph.D. in Sanskrit at Harvard University and now teaches at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. His first book, Sandalwood and Carrion, was a history of olfaction and perfumery in early India, and more recently he has been working on the history of alcohol and drugs in India.
Although we can’t pop in to the local liquor shop for sura, Professor McHugh suggests some more accessible libations to show the right spirit: “Korean makgeolli is not unlike some of the lighter rice wines (though sadly all the versions you get in the USA are stuffed with aspartame). Also, Chinese yellow wine, huang jiu, might be like some of the ancient Indian grain drinks.*Aged* sake works too. And I have read some accounts of the Persian wines imported to India in the early modern period that say it was a bit like the dry madeiras at the time.”
And to help transport us back to medieval India, he suggests some snacks: “spicy chickpeas; julienned fresh ginger dressed with lemon juice, salt, black pepper, maybe with some wholegrain mustard too. That latter recipe goes well with simply boiled salted chickpeas – the plain and the intense.”