The northeast is home to numerous tribes and sub-tribes, each with its own unique traditions for producing its own local brew. A trip to Northeast India would be incomplete without trying the local brew. According to researchers from the Jorhat-based College of Home Science (CHS Department )’s of food and nutrition, Assam Agricultural University (AAU), and the Tamil Nadu-based Indian Institute of Crop Processing Technology, the local brews of the Northeast have therapeutic values (IICPT).
These local brews are known by various tribal names, such as Chubitchi by the Garo tribe of Meghalaya, Choko by the Rabhas tribe of Assam, and Zutho by the Angamis tribe of Nagaland, to name a few.
Here are 9 most popular local brews from northeast India that you should try:
1. Chhaang (Sikkim)
Chaang (pronounced “chung”) by the Bhutia people, ci (pronounced “chee”) by the Lepcha people, or Thongba (aka Yakthumba) by the Limbu people, is a local beer made by fermenting millet, barley, or rice with yeast. It is sipped from a bamboo receptacle using a bamboo pipe and is commonly referred to as “Hot beer.” The millet receptacle is topped off with warm water several times until the millet loses its potency. Chhaang can be very strong and intoxicating at times. It tastes bitter, but not overly so, and has a pleasant aftertaste.
Chhaang is usually offered during religious ceremonies.
2. Zutho (Nagaland)
Zutho is a fermented drink made from rice that originated in the Indian state of Nagaland. Zutho is made with sticky rice and an interesting sprouted rice starter cake. The drink contains about 5% of ethanol and a fruity aroma.
Traditionally, Zutho is made by allowing enzymes to break down starch-rich solutions into sugars that yeast ferments. The unshelled rice is first soaked in water for 3 to 4 days before being drained of some of the water. Rice starch must be converted into malt by sprouting or digested by enzymes that Nagas learned to grow on a plant in a separate process.
3. Xaaj Pani (Assam)
Xaaj Pani is a name that almost everyone in Assam knows. This is primarily a rice beer that is popular among the Ahoms. There isn’t a single Ahom family that doesn’t make their own Xaaj at home. It is essentially a traditional alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice. Xaaj is essential to Ahoms and their culture. This drink is known by various names among the state’s tribes. However, the process and ingredients used to make it vary from household to household.
4. Apong (Arunachal Pradesh)
Apong is a popular alcoholic beverage among the tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in Northeast India. It’s made by fermenting rice. It is known by various tribal names in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam.
First, the rice used to make the drink is roasted until it turns black. After the rice has been cooked, it is combined with the fermenting ingredient, which is made from rice and medicinal plants.
The time it takes for ration formation varies with climate and temperature. During the summer, fermentation took 5 to 6 days. The fermented mixture is filtered and then poured into bamboo shoots. Approximately 30 medicinal plants use the beverage alongside rice during these processes.
5. Chuwak (Tripura)
The two main types of alcohol prepared by Tripuri women are Chuwak Bwtwk and Chuwarak.
Chuwak bwtwk is essentially fermented rice beer. Chuwak is the most valuable of the Tripuris. It is only used on special occasions and by society’s upper crust. It was previously served to the honoured and special guest, Lord Garia. It has a pleasant flavour and a distinct aroma that entices people to try it. Anyone who has it wishes to consume it again and again.
Chuwarak is a Tripuri distilled alcoholic beverage. It is similar to scotch or champagne; if it had been promoted and innovated like these brands, it could have surpassed the global status of Vodka, Feni, and others, and Tripuri whisky is said to be among the safest in the world, as there has not been a single case of death due to consumption poisoning. Chuwarak is available in a variety of flavours such as Mami rice, pineapple, jackfruit, and Guria rice.
6. Lao Pani (Assam)
Lao Pani is a rice beer that is fermented in the shell of a bottle gourd. They use a variety of ingredients, such as pepper and various herbs, to create lao-panis with varying nuances of taste and colour. Lao Pani is also sometimes made with ripe jack fruits and banana varieties.
Zu, a Mizo beer made from fermented rice, millet, or maize, came in three main grades: rakzu, zufang, zupui, and zulawm. Each grade is generally brewed by a different group of people for a different occasion. Zu, or rice beer, is closely linked to the dance element.
Mizoram also produces Zawlaidi grape wine, which is well-known for its fizzy flavour. With 80% of the city of Hnahlan’s workforce employed in the production of this wine, premium grape wine is actually a significant economic force for the formerly dry state.
Yu has a texture that is smoother and lighter than vodka but otherwise similar. Do not substitute glasses for earthen pots because the aroma and flavour of the food are enhanced.
The fermented beverage known as “yu” is popular among the State’s ethnic tribes. It is made by allowing rice, millet, or Job’s Tear to ferment, and it has the same smoothness as vodka. The best drinks come from those fermented for longer periods of time in earthenware pots, and processing them requires extra care.
Yu has therapeutic benefits as well. Yu is another religious offering made by Manipuris to their Gods during special occasions. Cereal grains and fruits that are readily available in the area are fermented during the manufacturing process.
9. Ka Kiad um & Bitchi (Meghalaya)
Rice beer (ka’iad um) is required at almost all Khasi and Synteng (Jaintia) religious ceremonies. On these occasions, it is customary for the officiating priest to pour generous amounts of liquor from a hollow gourd (u klong) and offer it to the gods. It is a rice beer that is commonly served during Khasi and Jaintia celebrations. The drink, which has cultural significance for the people, contains 70% alcohol, and celebrations would be incomplete without it.
Bitchi is a fermented rice beer that is only produced in the Garo Hills. It has the colour of dull honey and a wonderful smoky, sweet flavour. It has a light and delicious flavour. Both concoctions are crystal clear and have delectable flavours derived from locally available fruits.
So, the next time you visit one of the North-Eastern states, try their traditionally brewed rice beer and tell us about it.
Visiting the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland, and Mizoram would require Inner Line Permits (ILPs) while foreigners including Overseas Citizens of India require Protected Area Permits (PAPs) for Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. Obtaining an Inner Line Permit (ILP) is not required for visiting Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura for Indians or foreigners.