By Rafique Ali
Former Bollywood item girl Rakhi Sawant is an outlandish personality. Brash sensationalism, non-conventional, loves to speak her mind and stirring controversy are some of her favorite treads. Luckily, that notoriety and edginess landed her into few TV talk & reality shows as a second career. Prominent one was Rakhi Sawant Show, a Bollywood version of Jerry Springer Show. Replicating chanting of ‘Jerry Jerry’ as Jerry Springer walks in, audience in India also chants ‘Rakhi Rakhi’. Then tamasha (scene) of verbal abuse and sometimes fist fights till bouncers intervene. A while ago I was watching an episode on YouTube; Rakhi asked a participant ‘You drink Alcohol?’ (Aap Sharab peetay hein?) . Man answered ‘I drink beer’ (Mein beer peeta hoon). The audience burst into laughter.
I was too young to experience Good Old Days when Pakistan wasn’t a dry country. When a person can walk into any landmark Irani restaurants in Saddar or I.I. Chundrigar (Old name McLeod) Rd in Karachi, get served with a glass of beer or shot of whiskey; followed by meal of Biryani or Seekh kabab. Bhutto sahib publicly admitted about habit of consuming alcohol himself, imposed prohibition in 1977. Hence, next generation was left with curse of high and dry. Did prohibition stopped alcohol consumption? Answer is Yes and No. Happy hours continued for people with money. Lower middle class or low income Pakistanis, a victim in every aspect of life did become a victim of prohibition too. Apart from financial affordability issue, the overt judgmental religious inclination stigmatized this section too. Casual drinkers were barred from having a taste of Ale. Not so affluent patrons didn’t conceded to pressure from socially conservatives, they moved to cheaper forms of intoxications; Ganja, Charas or if they get lucky then Bhang.
Four decades passed by, generations grew up with indoctrination that alcohol is evil. It’s not alcohol; excessive use is evil just like paan, bidi, cigarette etc. One can disagree with this statement but it’s a matter of civilized discourse. With hanging sword of alcohol as cultural taboo, even barely mentioning the name; unfortunate generation didn’t get an opportunity to understand what actually alcohol is. Present era liberal writers directly or symbolically use romantic lines in their columns but never made an attempt to narrate ambiance of drinking. The discomfort or reluctance from their writings to openly talk about alcohol is evident. We created a society of Alcohol Illiterates, except a tiny percentage who is familiar with intricacies of drinking.
With least opportunity, some who drink once in a while drink like there will be no tomorrow. Drinking habits, social behavior of Pakistanis, their hypocrisy and skepticism towards alcohol is a huge topic for another day. Today, my fellow countrymen and women; lets walk into the world of Alcohol Literacy.
We no longer live in Mirza Ghalib era when Mein Khana (i.e. The Bar) used to serve just one type of drink, it’s a whole new world outside with plenty of choices. Though, we are stuck with just one word of Sharab Sharab and Sharab. Technically this word has multiple meanings. It translates into wine, alcoholic beverage or non-alcoholic beverage. Therefore, a can of coke or a bottle of juice is Sharab too. Isn’t it about time to salvage over-simplification?
We have Beer, Wine, Whiskey, Scotch, Bourbon, Brandy, Gin, Rum, Tequila, Vodka, Cordials and Liquor. Since it’s a long list therefore let’s focus on drinks from early days of human civilization; Beer, Wine and Whiskey.
Beer is the third most consumed beverage after water and tea. It is brewed and fermented from malted grain or hops. Color of beer i.e. light or dark depends upon how much roasting being done on barley malt. Some archeological tablets contain beer recipe as 9,000 years old. Ancient Egyptians used to brew beer in 3,000 BC. Beer carries very little concentration of alcohol which ranges from 4-9%. Lager, Ale, Stout, Porter and Bock are five major types of beer. Though it’s an all-season drink but chilled beer is a treat during hot summer months. Due to its low concentration it’s a safe bet for those who are too afraid to drink for fear of looking drunk in a social environment.
Wine, recipe just like beer dates back to 4,000 as well. Medieval Europe used to drink more wine than water. Wine culture mostly revolved around making it at home. Nineteenth and then half of twentieth century was first phase of commercial wine production, prices were high hence it was drink of rich and powerful. Sixty years ago, successful experiment of expedited fermentation of grapes in California helped mass production and so thus its affordability. Concept of wines valleys where wine making facilities are built right by the orchards in America, Europe and now in China & India created millions of new consumer and made brew lovers switch to wines drinking from other types of drinks. Red wines are unisex but mostly men like it, white wines are more popular among ladies. One glass of red wine a day reduces chances of heart attack, that’s what researchers say. Most wines are consumed at a room temperature however there are few which taste better when chilled. Wine experts are called Sommeliers, it’s a highly paid profession; requiring extensive training and an academic degree in universe of wines making among thousands of varieties. If you are a wine drinker then your dilemma is to remember which wines you consumed were good, it’s a challenge as there are hundreds of wines in the shelf. Maintain a notebook or take picture, marking good and bad wines; make sure you will buy good ones and avoid bad ones.
Whiskey is a cousin of Scotch and vice versa. Scotts don’t like to call it whiskey they call it Scotch. Though, Whiskey isn’t that old as beer and wine but its roots also goes back to second century AD. Whiskey is distilled from fermented grain and then aged in oak barrel, where it acquires its character, taste and aroma. Technical term for different types of whiskies is straight, blended and single malt. Whiskey or Scotch carries around 40% alcohol concentration, which is high. It became a drink of so-called machos, negotiation, competition, intimidation and fist fights. It caught imagination of men, especially for last two centuries. Men want to show their invincibility by taking shots after shots, neat; pretending they are still sober. Some drink it with rocks; some mix it with water, tonic or club soda.
Beer is all about quantity, you drink more bottles to get drunk. Whiskey or Scotch is about quality; first shot of 2 Oz. and it will give you buzz right away. Wine is all about class and sophistication or I must say relaxation with calming silence.
I can go on and on about rich subject of types of brew and its romance but let’s praise man at Rakhi Sawant show who brought the word beer on record. Registered protest against the contemptuous word Sharab. He wanted to maintain sanctity of drink of his choice. He wanted his expression to be heard, refusing to cave in to the general terminology. Word is Beer, Wine, Scotch, Vodka, Rum, Gin or Champagne; not Sharab. Cheers!!
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