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Say Cheers to the Beverages of NER

Even with the immense popularity of North East cuisine, the world is yet to explore the many varieties of homemade alcoholic brews of the region. Although Discovery channels and other travel shows have showcased the charms of NER brews, you need to have first-hand experience to know drinks thoroughly.

The brews of NER are tribe specific and unique in the way they use local herbs, the particular style of cooking, and the tingle of tangy spices. Next time you visit awesome Assam and the rest of NER, never skip trying out some of the exotic beverages. Let us get to know some of them before we raise a glass to traditional brews of NER.

Amazing Apong from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh

Apong is the traditional alcoholic beverage that holds the cultural significance of the Mishing community. Produced by fermenting cooked rice with herbal-based starter cakes called E’pob, the Mishing women brew two forms of Apong. One variety of Apong is fermenting cooked rice mixed with E’pob or Nogin Apong. It is a white brew and subtle in taste. It is taken routinely by the tribe. The second variety Poro Apong is a fermented mixture of cooked sticky rice, ash of partially burned paddy husk and straw with locally prepared E’pob. It is dark brown and rich in mineral and medicinal content.

The brewing is time-consuming and takes three months that includes mixing leaves, drying, heating on earthen pots, fermenting, and lastly, filtration. For the Mishing tribe, Apong is a significant part of all cultural and religious ceremonies, including marriages, death rituals and festivals. It is a symbol of honour for the Mishings to receive guests with a glass of Apong.

Raise the Glass for Chuwarak from Tripura

A versatile Whiskey from Tripura, Chuwarak is distilled from rice, pineapple, jackfruit and local ingredients like Tokhiseleng and Thakotor leaves. The distilling is a 24-hour process that demands extreme care. With a low alcoholic content, Chuwara is the safest drink in the homemade category. Once you take it, you become a fan of its aroma and soothing taste.

Zutho from Nagaland Tribes

Zutho is a rice beer which is made from sprouted rice grain by the Naga tribes of Nagaland.

This local beer has different levels of effectiveness, depending on the depth of the fermentation process. The Angami Naga tribe prepare this traditional beverage, which is a part of the culture and heritage of the ethnic tribes of Nagaland like the Ao, Lotha, Angami, Khiamniungan and Sümi Naga.

The local sticky rice and a starter cake of sprouted rice known as piazu are crucial to prepare Zutho. Preparation takes many days. First, the rice is allowed to get soaked in water for 3 to 4 days. Later it is drained, and in a week, the grains germinate. The rice is pound to make the piazu. Red or white sticky rice is spread out on bamboo mats to dry off and cool. Later they mix piazu with this rice, and the mixture is put in an earthen vessel to ferment. Water is added to the fermented rice mixture, filtered in a bamboo mesh and served in bamboo cups.

The white drink is sweet and sour with a fruity flavour. Angamis usually drink it with ginger, chillies and chutney. The Naga tribes believe that Zutho is rich in medicinal properties. It helps to regulate blood pressure, high fever and improve one’s digestion and increase stamina.

Chhaang from Sikkim

Chhaang is a beer prepared from millet, barley or rice, and it is widely popular among the Nepalese and Tibetan communities in the eastern Himalayas. Chhaang is drunk as a cool summer drink and as a hot beverage during winter served piping-hot in brass bowls or wooden mugs. It is also called Tongba by the Limbu people.

The beverage prepared from fermented barley or millet (finger-millet) or rice is served, stuffed in a barrel of bamboo called a dhungro. The process is intricate as boiling water is poured in and sipped through a narrow-bore bamboo tube called a pipsing. It is then cooled, adding yeast to help ferment for two days. Ginger and aconite is added to this concoction and then diluted with water for consumption.

In some places, the fermented mixture is pressed with hand yielding a rather cloudy concoction. In higher reaches in Mt Everest, the tribes prepare Chhaang by passing hot water through fermenting barley. They keep the Chhaang in a large pot and drink through a wooden straw.

Zu from Mizoram

The Zu has a Mizo love story behind it. The tale is about a Mizo clan leader who sought to win a beautiful maiden with the help of Zawlaidi, a love potion. Finally, the clan leader won his lady love with the love potion. The traditional wine from Mizoram, popularly called Zu, takes its name from Zawlaidi. Zu is brewed from Champhai & Hnahlan Grape at Winery villages and has a musky, port-wine-like flavour. The liquor from fermented grains, rice, millet, maize and yeast. In the North East, Hnahlan in Mizoram is the lone commercial grape winemaking village.

Yu from Manipur

The traditional beverage of Manipur Yu is a preparation by married Lois women from the Lois community.

Yu consists of two main ingredients -the flattened, dry disks called hamei. Hamei is from chopped and powdered wild creepers known as yangli and unpolished rice. The intricate process of washing, drying and fermentation of the rice is followed by adding crushed Hamei.

Then the mixture is transferred into a basket covered and lined with the leaves Flame of the Forest tree. The fermentation takes four days in summer and more in winter and the distillation in a vessel called Yukok. The Lois take the traditional wine during all-important ceremonies. Traditionally, the Lois women prepare the wine after a purification bath so that there is no contamination.

The drink is similar to Vodka is served in earthen pots. Tribals of Manipur acknowledge its medicinal properties and also offer it to their deities.

Kiad from Meghalaya

Kiad um from Meghalaya, the Scotland of the East, is another rice-based alcoholic beverage. The people of Meghalaya boasts about its powerful medicinal properties. Traditional practises include Kiadum during naming ceremonies.

The Tribals of Meghalaya consider that the drink boosts strength and health. Kiad is also called the Chu, and it is served traditionally in eco-friendly bamboo tumblers with a piece of charcoal for balance in taste.

Judima, from Assam

Judima, the traditional rice wine, is brewed by the Dimasa people of Assam. Prepared from fermented rice, it is drunk in all ceremonies of the Dimasa tribe in the Dima Hasao district of Assam.

Like other rice wines, the Dimasa prefer using the sticky Bora rice to prepare Judima. Dimasa people use a plant-based yeast that is procured from Thembra Bark. from the forests. This traditional drink has recently won the GI tag, and it is the first from the North East to get the tag.

The health benefits of Judima include the treatment of psychological disorders and other ailments.

So the next time you step into the beautiful North East, do try one of our beverages from Assam’s Lao Paani to Meghalaya’s Kiad to Arunachal’s Apong. I am sure you will love getting tipsy over each.

nd also offer it to their deities.

All photos from Google images

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