Sunday, 12 April 2020

Assam's country brew ''Sulai' - poor man's liquor!

local rectified spirit. Sulai, Assam flickr.com
There are a few local brews available in the tribal areas of Assam, NE India. Mostly brewing is done by women in the tribal family and they take adequate precaution to prepare the brew. Liquor drinking is part of  the local tribal culture and  many tribal communities  have been following this practice  for centuries. Among the local brews, Sulai is popular among the poor people.  Sulai,  in common parlance, is a rectified  country liquor and  this clear, colourless alcohol is  generally brewed from fermented molasses or occasionally rice. It tastes like red wine. 
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In the preparation of Sulai,  an anaerobic (oxygen poor) process is followed under controlled  conditions of temperature and pH.  The reducing sugars are broken down to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.  This is  part of the traditional method -  molasses or unrefined treacle are first fermented in a large tin or drum. The distillation of  fermented molasses  takes place in  a large cylindrical metallic vessel continuously over firewood in an earthen oven. A perforated container is  set above the main cylinder,  inside of which is a metallic collector kept on an iron tripod.  The distillate sulai is collected in the metallic collector.  To prevent excess ventilation during distillation the bottom of the condenser vessel is plastered with mud.
Assam State, India. country brew Sulai-preparation, en.wikipedia.org
During thr fermentation process  from fermenting molasseswater is replaced three to five times after it is heated. Condensed Sulai is collected in a small metallic vessel. The strength of the brew is dependent on  the number of times water is replaced. In the case of  untreated part where alcohol being higher, this is done fewer times.
Sulai, generally stored in clear, glass bottles has a strong pungent odour that may cover  the surroundings, so it  is often brewed in fields or away from people's homes. The brew has very high alcohol content -  40% to 45% and is considered a rectified spirit, and this being due to the fact that it has not undergone multiple distillation  
Sulai production has been around for centuries and during the colonial rule under the East India Company, in 1856 a tax had been levied on it  called  abkaree for production and sale of rectified spirit. The licence holder  could not brew more than ten gallons per day. 
Licensed distilleries were both private and government-owned.  Brewing of sulai without a permit was  and is against law that would invite fine  and the  law  is still in force in Assam.
The drink is taken raw without adding water and the side dish is fried meat or any other curry and only people from the lower strata of the society drink this brew. It is commonly known as  a drink of the 'lowly' classes. Elite people avoid this drink and it is below their dignity to drink it.  It also goes by the name of  tharra in north India, handia or pheni in Nepal
In certain rural pockets, poor people are dependent on Sulai for their livilihood and and sell it to liquor stills (sulai bhatti) and private retail units. There are occasional tragedies occuring in Assam due to illicit brewing. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulai

1 comments so far

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