Eight surprising facts about alcohol in India
In an immense country with people from various religious backgrounds, alcohol could be seen from several different angles. Whereas a lot of modern people see the benefits and fun of drinking beer, wine or whisky from time to time, specific religious groups have opposing views on this topic. For the almost 200 million Muslims in the country drinking alcohol is seen as an offence. Thus, the ‘marriage’ of alcohol within India is not very solid.
For an outsider, it’s very difficult to really understand the underlying factors which drives the various views. Is it culture? Religion? Or are views on alcohol primarily based on your peers? If one mainly hangs out with beer drinkers and the designated family strongly opposes the consumption of alcohol, what would happen? The actual rules and regulations are easy to understand, but the consumer behaviour on this topic is complicated.
I’ve written down my personal top eight with some surprising facts or personal experiences about alcohol in India.
- Alcohol has been banned in four states. India is so large, one would even argue that it’s too large to be a country. Having states with a population over and above 200 million (Uttar Pradesh), local governments have special powers and a lot of the policies are being enforced by local politicians. PM Narendra Modi has been the CM of Gujarat, one of four Indian so-called dry states. The other dry states are: Bihar, Nagaland and Lakshadweep. Kerala, one of my most favourite states within India, is a semi dry state where alcohol is only being sold in designated shops and five star hotels.
- Imported alcohol is very expensive. Do you love a special beer from Belgium? Only want to drink French-produced Chardonnay? Think again, because you should go local in India. Imported alcohol is taxed very heavily, so your favourite bottle of imported beer could be very costly. I’ve had some really average wines for well over 10 euros per glass, whereas locally produced alternatives were much better and cheaper.
- Heavy drinking by day wagers/laborours is a huge problem. With drug producing and trafficking countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan in the near vicinity, availability of drugs should not be the key issue. However, it seems as if drug addiction rates are relativity low in the country. I haven’t seen old-fashioned ‘junkies’ during my travels. Unfortunately, there is a state in India with a severe drug problem; Punjab has been dealing with heroin addicts for years now, without any signs of improvement. In contrary to drugs, alcoholism is very widespread and one can see the devastating effects in every corner of the city. I’ve seen a lot of sad examples of alcoholism. Just take a short walk in and around MG road to see the effects: men are laying down on sidewalks, to sleep off their alcohol rush. One of the very public signs of the problem is the success of the small liquor bottle: a lot of licensed liquor stores are selling small bottles of whiskey or other locally produced booze, where a lot of people get in line to purchase something to get them a new kick.
- India has dry days, where restaurants and retail outlets won’t sell alcohol. I’ve told you about the different laws and policies between states about selling alcohol. In India there is a concept of ‘dry day’s: vendors will not sell any alcohol on a ‘dry day’. Unfortunately, the dry days vary from state to state, with a lot of unhappy surprises as a result. However, if you can produce your foreign passport in a five star hotel you will be served alcohol, even on a dry day.
- Liquor/beer advertising is partly banned, especially on tv. I have been watching some World Cup matches on Indian tv. A lot of the tv-commercials where about liquor brands, until I found out that they where actually promoting their water or soft drinks brand, not the beer- or wine brand. Funnily, it is not possible to actually buy the soda’s, because the advertised products do not excist
- Legal drinking age varies from state to state. Indian policy makers are well known to create complicated policies for very simple situations. They often create a very broad list of options and an even longer list of exceptions. While reading about the legal drinking age, one could really learn more about the complexity of this immense country. The local politicians came up with a weird variation in the legal drinking age. A large number of states allow people of 21 years or older to drink alcohol, but there are also states where young adults could buy drinks at the age of 18. Furthermore: some states only allow people of 25 years or older to drink or buy alcohol. In Maharashtra, my home state, the legal drinking age starts at 18 (with wine), 21 (beer) or 25 (other drinks). The problem here is: nobody enforces it.
- Whisky is very popular in India. I’ve tried whisky many times, without much luck. I can’t describe my negative response to its taste and I’m very disappointed about this. The art and craftmanship of whisky-making has developed an intense interest within the glamorous drink, but all the love-making attempts have failed. Here in India, I’ve seen a lot of people drinking whiskey and they actually seem to like it. But there is one thing that continues to surprise me; people in India drink their whisky mixed with water!
- They even produce their own beer and I Iove it. With a lot of very small breweries, the Netherlands slowly transforms into a micro-beer producing country. Some of the beers are very tasty and special. Bira is an Indian beer brand with some fine products. I personally like the Bira-white, which is very tasty.
If you drink, do it with friends. And if possible, please try out some of the Indian-brand beers, wines and liquors. What about Black Dog whisky? Or Sula wine? And my all-time favourite, believe it or not: Old Monk dark rum.