Alcoholic Beverages

Spirits, beers and wines all come under the category of alcoholic beverages. Beer and wine contain a lesser percentage of alcohol than spirits.

Jainism does not allow alcohol because fermentation depends on micro-organisms which make the alcohol non-vegetarian. In Buddhism alcohol consumption violates the fifth of the Five Precepts, the basic Buddhist code of ethics. An initiated Sikh can not use intoxicants either. In the Quran, intoxicants (alcoholic drinks) are referenced as incentives from Satan and alcohol consumption is prohibited by Islam because it weakens the conscience of the believer. Christian and Hindu views on alcohol are varied. However, Allopathic, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, and other medicines contain or use alcohol as solvents.

IMFL or Indian Made Foreign Liquor: As stupid as it sounds, it is the official Government of India term
used for spirits or hard liquors such as whisky, rum, and vodka that are manufactured.

IMFL is divided into two broad categories, the milder ready-to drink (RTD) liquors and the regular hard liquors containing 42% alcohol content.

Till 2018 under the RTD category only 5% alcohol volume by volume content was allowed; thereafter a stiffer variety having 8% alcohol was allowed.

Beers: Indian beers are mostly lagers and all use hops (plant) as flavouring. They too are either mild beer (having 5% alcohol) or strong beer (having 8% alcohol).

Wines: made from grapes. (Cultivation and harvesting of grapes for winemaking is viticulture, whereas viniculture is the actual process of making wine.)

Country Liquor/Desi Daru/IMIL or Indian Made Indian Liquor vis-à-vis the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act: Hooch is inferior or illicit liquor, but not drinks such as fenny, toddy, mahua and arrack. However, when toxins such as methyl alcohol are added to them for the purpose of making them stronger and cutting costs, the beverages become illicit. Charas, ganja and bhang are also ancient Indian drinks. Bhang is derived from the leaves of the Cannabis (like hemp and marijuana plants) and is frequently consumed in drinks such as thandai and lassi during Holi and Mahashivratri and is not covered under the NDPS Act, whereas hashish/charas and ganja are made from the resin derived from the dried flowers, buds, stems, fruits, etc. of the same plant and are illegal probably because of pressure from the liquor lobby who don’t want an alternative to be officially marketed, plus the government derives high taxes from the liquor (and tobacco) industry.

IMFL and Alcohol

The production of IMFL drinks such as whisky, rum, gin, and vodka do not appear to involve the use of animal substances. If so, BWC wonders why all manufacturers of such products do not affix the green veg symbol on their bottles.

In India 75% of distilleries make spirits from molasses (a by-product of the sugar industry) from which an extra-neutral spirit/alcohol is distilled and hard liquor flavours and colours blended. 25% are grain (inferior quality) based distilleries – better alcohol is produced from them and their by-product/waste is dried sold as cattle and poultry feed (called DDGS or Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles).

Alcohol is made by fermentation for which the raw material differs from liquor to liquor: corn or malt for whisky, molasses for rum, grapes for brandies and wines, starches like potatoes for gin and vodka, and barley for beer.

The basic fermentation procedure breaks down natural sugar of (sprouting) grain into carbon dioxide, ethanol or ethyl alcohol and residual content. Yeast (from grain) changes the sugar (glucose) into alcohol. The different colours, tastes, potencies and flavours usually come from various fruits or vegetables used, and the additives, by-products and diluting substances employed during fermentation.

In short, natural sugar + yeast = alcohol + carbon dioxide.

Spirits made Abroad

Most brands of hard liquor whiskey, whisky, bourbon, vodka, gin and rum are vegan. Similarly distilled spirits are mostly vegan except for cream based liqueurs and those that contain honey which is usually stated on the label.

However, for vegans contains a database of over 57K products which have been checked out during making, filtering, etc.

A single grain, as distinct from a single malt whisky, is a grain whisky made at one distillery, while the single malt is made with barley.

Alcohol, malted or not, made from grain which is produced in Scotland is called whisky, while it is called whiskey if it is produced in USA or Ireland. American whiskey is called Bourbon and is made from at least 51% corn or maize. Rye whiskies (having a spicy flavour) are also popular in USA. Scotch whisky is generally double distilled while Irish whiskey is distilled thrice.

Rum is fermented and distilled from sugar cane juice and/or molasses and aged in barrels (that could have once held whiskey/Bourbon) to impart flavour. The white and light coloured rums are double filtered, darker ones have caramel added, and some are fruit flavoured.

Gin is hard alcohol flavoured with the seeds of the juniper bush (from which it gets its name) and some herbs and flavourings called botanicals which are also added, and doesn’t require to be aged. Dutch gin is distilled from barley.

Vodka is usually distilled from rye, wheat, sorghum, potatoes, corn, grapes, pineapple, soy beans, sugar beets or hemp seeds. In some countries it used to be passed through bone charcoal (calcinated animal bones) but now it is mostly filtered using birch-wood charcoal every where, not only in Russia. Absolut Vodka made in Sweden is vegan. Silent Sam Vodka is filtered through silk. Flavoured vodka is also manufactured.

Tequila is a spirit that is derived from the blue agaves grown in Tequila, Mexico. Tequila got its name from a volcano which erupted centuries ago leaving the region with red mineral rich soil ideal for growing agaves. Hibiscus, chocolate and even jalapeno flavoured tequilas are also popular. Pulque/Iztac Octli that looks like milk is made by fermenting the sap of maguey agaves, whereas Mezcal is made from the cooked heart of particular agaves. A distillery in Goa produces Tequila too but has named the spirit Agave.

Ulanzi or bamboo wine of Tanzania is also prepared from fermented sap of young bamboo shoots.

Cachaca is made from fresh sugarcane juice which is fermented and distilled. Symbolic of Brazil, restaurant-bars featuring numerous different cachaca are found in large cities of the country.

Whiskey/Whisky types and brands

Vatted whisky is a mixture of single malts, whereas blended whisky is a blend of malt and grain whiskies.

Bourbon barrels: The inside of the barrels are charred and used to age Bourbon once in the US. As US law requires the use of fresh oak barrels, the old casks are then reused in Scotland or Ireland and add woodiness to the distillate.

Bourbon is also called American Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey is technically Bourbon although it is produced using a charcoal steeping progress called the Lincoln County Process before aging so it mellows the whiskey.

Sherry Butt: These casks are first used for Spanish Sherry. When reused, they give malt whisky a unique taste because of the colour, aroma and flavour of the sherry.

Scotch Whisky (spelt without an ‘e’) is also aged for at least 3 years in ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry casks.

Mush Whiskey produced in Ireland is aged for at least 3 years in wooden casks to produce smooth liquor.

Hogshead: The Hogshead: The hogshead uses the staves of barrels that have been disassembled. They create a mellow woodiness to the malts.

Puncheon: White oak from North America which adds a different flavour to the malt.

A New Hampshire distillery produces Eau De Musc which is barrel-aged flavoured bourbon containing castoreum – secretion from beavers.

Japanese Oak Casks: This Mizunara wood gives a different flavour as it ages and gives a sandalwood flavour that is not found in Scotch whiskies. Japanese Whisky (spelt without an ‘e’) is made from double malted or peated barley and distilled like Scotch Whisky.

Canadian Whisky (spelt without an ‘e’) is made from corn must be aged for at least 3 years in barrels no larger than 700 litres. The addition of artificial flavouring and colouring is allowed.

Indian and Foreign Beers

The world’s main varieties of beers are: lambic (Belgium), stout and porter (dark beers), wheat (German, top-fermented), ale (warm and top-fermented) and lager (cool and bottom-fermented).

Traditional cask conditioned beers are usually clarified with isinglass derived from the swim-bladders of fish. And, animal-derived glycerides of fatty acids could be used in the production of keg beers. Draught beer, spelt draft beer and keg beer, is served from a cask or keg, not from a bottle or can.

Beer is produced in a brewery through fermentation of starches from malted grain to which brewer’s yeast (micro-organism – different for ale and lager) is added. A clarifying agent (animal/plant) is essential to get rid of the cloudy appearance. Canned, beer sphere, and some bottled beers are usually filtered without the use of animal substances.

All Indian beers are either lagers or strong lagers. (Pilsner is a pale lager.) They use yeast strains, are bottom-fermented and generally chill filtered. Some may be clarified with isinglass (non-veg), however certain beers manufactured in India must be using non-animal clarifying agents because they display the green vegetarian symbol.

Home-made rice beer is popular in some parts of India like in the north-east. Elephants love it too! And, have torn down tribal homes in their quest for this intoxicating brew.

BWC condemns the “meat flavoured beer” developed for dogs and introduced in British pubs in 2012.

Although not popular, beer is available in Europe as a spread or jelly, and it contains about 40% beer/ale.

The manufacturer of the world-famous Guinness stout (beer) brewed with isinglass since 1759 has declared that by end-2016 with investment in a state-of-the-art filtration system, it would go vegan.

Root beer is a sweet beverage originally of North America that is made using the root beer tree. The beer may be non-alcoholic and non-carbonated too.

Beer is increasingly being marketed as a wellness drink that appeals to millennials. From clean spirits and wellness beers, to sugar free, paleo-friendly and keto-friendly natural wine, brands are marketing their alcoholic beverages. Adding damiana (herbal origin) acts as an anti-depressant and aphrodisiac. Sufferfest Beer targets athletes with its recovery ale called Fastest Known Time which contains salt of potassium and magnesium; and their Repeat is made with bee pollen. And then there is Harpoon Brewery’s Rec League which contains sea salt and chia seeds and only 3.8% alcohol content.

Clarifying Agents

Finings are clarifying agents used for beers and wines – particularly white wines. They can be of animal or non-animal origin:

Animal finings include chitin (from shells of lobsters, crabs, shrimp, molluscs, etc.), whites of eggs, egg albumen, fish oil, gelatine (animal bones, horns, hooves), isinglass (derived from swim-bladders of fish), and milk casein.

The use of ox-blood and bone marrow/fat was banned in Europe years ago after the outbreak of BSE or mad cow disease, but they could still be used elsewhere.

Non-animal finings used are seaweed, bentonite or kaolin, diatomaceous earth, cellulose pads, paper and membrane (micro-porous plastic films) filters.


Red (rouge), white (blanc), dessert, table, sweet, rosé, dry, sweet, fortified, sparkling, and port are the different varieties of wines. Kosher wines are not all vegan, in fact can be non-vegetarian.

All wines are made through the fermentation of grapes and yeast in stainless steel vats, few in traditional oak barrels. And, they need to be clarified with animal or non-animal substances. Fortified wine, also subjected to the fining process, has alcohol added to increase its potency.

Oenologists say to make a great wine is difficult and there have been years when whole stocks of wines have been thrown out. It depends on many factors like the vineyard, the arrangement of the leaves, the soil, the temperature, and the date of picking the grapes which is crucial. Each year is a different cycle and wines take several years to mature and be ready for marketing.

Some wines produced in India display the green vegetarian symbol. In 2017 Sula launched Kadu, a wine for a cause with a tiger on the label, and a commitment to donate Rs5/- per bottle sold to a wildlife foundation. Grapes suitable for wine-making are grown in Kashmir, Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa and Tamil Nadu. There are however few wineries in India.

Fruit wines such as those from strawberry, pineapple and kiwi are produced in India. They are no different to wines made from grapes. In fact, many are blended with grape juice. There are many fruits, vegetables, roots, flowers and tree saps from which wines are made, but internationally known ones are from elderberries, plum, pineapple, dandelion, rose hip, red/white currant, cherry and banana. If no spirit (like brandy or rum) is added, it is called natural wine. Such wines and those termed organic that are made exclusively from organically grown produce, may or may not be made with animal derived clarifying agents.

However, cider, perry and mead (wine containing honey) do not fall under the definition of fruit wines – neither does beer.

Cider is made from unfiltered juice of apples that has been fermented to produce sparkling apple juice.

Commercially called pear cider, perry is similarly made from fermented pears.

Mead or honey wine is made from fermented honey and water. It originated in Ireland and it was a medieval tradition to give a newly married couple a month’s or a moon’s worth of mead. That is how the word honeymoon came about! In India it is manufactured under the crafts wine category and could be named Apple Mead, Coffee Mead, and so on, but mead always contains honey. Some other wines may contain honey and egg yolk extract.

Lillet is an aromatised blend of wine, brandy, fruits and herbs from Podensac, Bordeaux in France. But, the original Kina Lillet was from Peru and contained quinine liqueur made of cinchona bark.

Champagne is dry sparkling wine containing carbon dioxide to make it fizzy. Only if it comes from the Champagne region in France, it is called Champagne, otherwise it is sparkling wine.

Sparkling wine is also known as bubbly or carbonated wine. Still wine is a table wine that contains no carbon dioxide and therefore has no sparkle or effervescence. Whereas, Petillant, Frizzante and Crackling wines are in-between the two types since they are slightly sparkling due to dissolved carbon dioxide.

Aguardiente meaning “burning water” in Spanish is a beverage that contains 29% to 60% alcohol by volume. Both aguardiente and brandy originated as terms for distilled spirits.


Brandy is “fire wine” or brandewijn in Dutch, and is usually made through fermentation of grapes or pomace (remains of fruit after juice or oil extraction). Caramel colour and different flavourings could be added. If the solera process is used (common in Spain) the product is a blend of vintages. In some countries where French is not spoken, eau-de-vie refers to a colourless brandy distilled from fermented fruit (other than grapes) like pears or peaches. Pálinka is a famous traditional fruit brandy of Central Europe which was originally Hungarian.

The best eau-de-vie is from the Alsace region of France. The most famous eau-de-vie is Kirsch, made from cherries and produced in Germany. The Jewish Tunisian Boukha and Moroccan Mahia (mahia means eau-de-vie or water of life) are made from figs.

Brandy could also be a spirit produced upon distilling wine like Cognac which is brandy distilled from white wine. No Indian wineries produce brandy from their wines.


Cognacs are all brandies, but all brandies are not cognacs. Ninety per cent cognacs are manufactured by four companies: Remy Martin, Hennessy, Courvoisier and Martell. Cognacs are made from specified grapes of France of which the Ugni Blanc is mainly used. The grapes are first crushed to make white wine which is distilled twice in copper-pot stills resulting in a concentrate called the eau-de-vie which is aged for at least 2 years in oak barrels/casks. Two or more eau-de-vie derived from different varieties of grapes may also be blended. The minimum alcohol content of cognac is 40% by volume; and, nothing other than distilled or demineralised water, sugar, caramel and oak infusion is needed in the production process. The grading on cognacs indicates how young or old they are: VS (Very Special) is 2 years; VSOP (Very Superior Old Pale) is 4 years; and XO (Extra Old) is 6 years. Limited editions (like 100 year old blended cognac) are rare and frightfully expensive.


Armagnac, is traditionally a single distilled brandy containing 52% alcohol. It was produced in France 150 years before cognac, but is not as popular as cognac.


Sherry is a Spanish or Portuguese wine and may contain animal substances. It is normally fortified with brandy prior to bottling.


Bristol Cream is a brand of Spanish sherry bottled in Bristol (England) and contrary to popular belief, the term “cream” in its name, does not reflect the use of a dairy ingredient. In the 1860s it was christened Bristol Cream by a visitor to John Harvey’s cellars who when given to taste it, compared it to Bristol Milk also a sherry containing no milk, and said “If that be Milk, then this is Cream”.


Vermouth is a fortified wine with a number of herbs added for aroma and flavour.

Retsina is a white or rosé wine from Greece. The wine is sealed with pine resin thus infusing it with its aroma.

Botrytized wine which is originally Hungarian is made from grapes that have been affected by the Noble rot, a grey fungus.

Campari is red Italian bitter wine often used in cocktails. 2007 onwards cochineal (red colouring derived from cactus insects) was discontinued as an ingredient.


Lacryma Christi (the tears of Christ) is a wine produced from grapes grown in vineyards on the fertile lower slopes of Mount Vesuvius, Italy.

Marsala wine is produced in region surrounding the city of Marsala in Sicily. It is dry or sweet and is mainly utilised in Italian cooking.

Canada’s elegant Ice Wine, known as Eiswein in Germany, is traditionally from the vineyards of Germany and Austria. The grapes are allowed to naturally freeze on the vine and hand-picked on cold winter nights when the temperature is minus 8-10° Centigrade. They produce tiny quantities of extremely sweet juice which is why the Ice Wine is rare and expensive. It may or may not be vegan since fining agents are added by some manufacturers.


Straw wine or Raisin Wine is made from grapes that have been dried. Production in Northern Italy, French Alps and Greece dates back to the pre-Roman era. The technique used is similar to making Ice Wine.

Dessert wines may taste like liqueurs but they do not contain added flavouring and sugar. They are gulped down on their own or paired with cakes, dry desserts or cheese, with the wine being sweeter than the dessert. Sauternes are served with pâté de fois gras (produced by inflicting extreme cruelty and death of ducks and geese); Maderia from Portugal is paired with dark chocolate dessert; and Vintage Port with Stilton cheese (can contain calf rennet). In fact, Laithwaite’s Wine of UK has created the world’s first insect and wine-matching guide.

By 2016 table wines with “critter labels” (pictures of animals on the labels affixed on the bottles) were in great demand. For example, Kangaroo, Wolftrap (a picture of a wolf stretching itself), Porcupine Ridge, Rex Goliath (a circus rooster of the 1900s), Little Penguin, Dancing Bull, Tall Horse, Lazy Lizard and many more other brands featuring birds, crocodiles, monkeys, whales, deer, lobsters, sea horses, even frogs. Critter labels are said to attract consumers due to shelf visibility, brand recall, demystification and of course what the drinker is used to drinking. All the wines are probably non-veg.


Liqueurs are high alcohol (often brandy-based), sweet beverages with flavourings from different sources. They come in a variety of flavours, aromas, colours and textures and are categorised as chocolate, coffee, cream, crème, whisky, fruit, berry, flower, herbal (particularly anise) and nut flavoured. They are made by means of distillation, maceration, percolation or from fruit juices and have become almost synonymous to cordials which were originally medicinal.

Since liqueurs are often used as toppings for ice-creams and desserts, they often pass off as vegetarian, although they could very well contain animal ingredients such as isinglass, making them unsuitable for vegetarians.

Commonly known brands of liqueurs are Bailey’s Irish Cream, Bénédictine, Bols, Chambord, Drambuie and Kahlúa.

Dairy-based liqueurs contain cream (do not confuse with crème liqueurs) can usually be distinguished as such with the word cream in their names. For example: Amarula Cream, Baileys Irish Cream, Baja Rosa Strawberry Cream Liqueur, Creme de la Creme Maple Cream, Cruzan Rum Cream, Drumgray Highland Cream Liqueur, Dwersteg’s Organic Coffee Cream Liqueur, Hare Turkish Coffee Cream Liqueur, Heather Cream, KeKe Beach Key Lime Cream Liqueur, McCormick’s Irish Cream, Merlyn Cream Liqueur, Mozart White Chocolate Cream, O’Leary’s Irish Cream, Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream Liqueur, Spirit of Liberty America’s Cream Liqueur, Sangster’s Original Jamaica Rum Cream Liqueur, Starbucks Cream Liqueur, Vana Tallinn Cream, Vermeer Dutch Chocolate Cream Liqueur, and Voyant Chai Cream.

The famous Serbian donkey milk liqueur, in addition to the milk, contains alcohol, sugar and aromatic herbs. Licor de oro, a liqueur from Chile, contains whey. Dooley’s Cream and Dulce de Leche liqueurs use milk toffee. Godiva Caramel Milk Chocolate Liqueur contains chocolate. In fact, chocolate and coffee liqueurs often contain milk chocolate. Kahlúa and Tia Maria are two of the very many coffee flavoured liqueurs available.

Ponche Crema and Rompope liqueurs contain both milk and eggs. Egg yolk is an ingredient in Vov Liqueur and also in Advocaat Liqueur.

Many liqueurs contain honey. For example: Barenfang, Barenjaeger, Bruadar, Canton, Chambord, Demanovka, Drambuie, Eblana, Glayva, Glenturret Ginger Liqueur, Malt Liqueur, Irish Mist, Krupnik, Lochan Ora, Lubelska Miodowka, Murray Scottish Highland Liqueur, Mesi, Stag’s Breath, Yokon Jack and Wild Turkey American Honey (also a Bourbon whiskey). Carolans Irish Cream contains both honey and milk.

Some liqueurs can contain beeswax which could be overlooked as an ingredient. In May 2016, Baileys came out with their new dairy- and gluten-free almond milk-based liqueur called Almande. The media covered it extensively while vegans were overjoyed to have an alternative to the traditional Irish cream. It was then revealed that Baileys had not intended to create a vegan beverage! So upon checking they discovered that Almande was unfortunately not vegan since it contained beeswax. The company then declared that they would try to remove the animal product from the formulation by March 2017. By May 2017 new bottles marketed in North America began carrying the vegan label.  

Goldschläger is cinnamon flavoured and contains gold leaf (varkh) floating in the clear liqueur. Gold flakes are also found in Danziger Goldwasser, Schwabacher Goldwasser and Gold Strike. A sparkling wine from Spain contains it, as does Kiwi Gold which is a New Zealand wine made with gold flakes. (The ingredient code for gold is E175.)

Crème liqueurs (note: crème refers to the creamy texture, not dairy cream) are those that have additional sugar added to the point that they become very syrupy. For example: Crème de Cacao (chocolate), Crème de Cassis (black currant) and Crème de Menthe (mint).

Cointreau and Curaçao are liqueurs made with orange peel and fall under the Triple Sec category having higher alcoholic content like Grand Marnier orange liqueur. Parfait d’Amour is a purple coloured Curaçao based liqueur used often in cocktails. Malibu Coconut Liqueur is made with white rum from Barbados blended with natural coconut.

Amaretto is sweet almond flavoured liqueur. Kümmel is flavoured with caraway seed, cumin and fennel. Sambuca is anise flavoured.

Nocino is an Italian liqueur made by macerating green walnuts in high-proof liquor with sugar and spices.

Famous Liquors

A famous Mediterranean drink is called pastis in France, ouzo in Greece, raki in Turkey, and arrak in Lebanon and Syria. Each distillery has its own recipe, but basically it consists of alcohol, star anise, black and white pepper, cardamom, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, liquorice and sugar.

Saké/saki is rice wine and the national drink of Japan. It is made from at least nine types of rice, semi-hard water, koji or saké yeast (steamed rice on which mould is grown), and it is said that the people who make it, the land and the weather are equally important and therefore considered ingredients as well! Gold saké drink is saké to which gold leaf/flakes (varkh) has been added by high-end restaurants.

Báijiǔ/shaojiu is a Chinese wine (classified by flavour and fragrance) traditionally made from sorghum, but is also made from grains such as rice, wheat, barley or millet. It is similar to the Japanese shōchū and Korean soju and is close to vodka in strength and mouth-feel.

Snake wine is an alcoholic beverage produced in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, etc., by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The snakes are steeped for months in bottles to which herbs are added. Cobra or snake wine made fresh is considered an aphrodisiac. It utilises snake body fluids like blood (from its belly which is slit and blood drained directly into a glass containing some rice wine or grain alcohol) and bile similarly extracted.

Baby mice wine is a Chinese health tonic. Tiny white mice, just born and with their eyes closed, are dropped in to a bottle of rice wine and fermented for a year.

Country Liquor

Country Liquor or Desi Daru is usually a crude form of gin made from molasses with a flavour like santra, nimboo, coffee, saunf, mango and masala. It covers all liquor other than rectified spirit, denatured spirit and perfumed liquor, normally manufactured from neutral spirit and de-mineralised water with added spices and essences which do not imitate any imported liquors and cordials, and sold at prescribed strengths at country liquor shops.

Annually 60,000 bottles of Fenny/Feni is made in Goa and only sold within the state. It is labelled “country liquor” so can not be sold elsewhere. However, this may change because in 2016 it may be granted the “heritage spirit” tag. Goan Feni has GI (Geographical Identification) registration since 2009, valid for 10 years, which gives it a brand image. Incidentally, it takes only 3 days to produce Feni which is then rested in garrafões (large bellied glass bottles).

There are three types of Feni made from cashew, coconut and from a root called dukshiri.

Cashew/Kaaju feni is made from the fermented juice of cashew fruit. Cashew apples are manually crushed in a rock on the hill which is carved or shaped like a basin with an outlet for the juice. The juice in collected in a huge earthen pot that is buried underground and fermented. The final lot of clear juice which trickles out is called neero and is consumed as well.

The collected liquid is put in a closed boiler or bhatti on top of burning firewood. Upon vaporisation and distillation a liquid concentrate is obtained. The aroma spreads wide.

The liquor produced from cashew fenny is of three grades, one of which is Arrack/Urrac – this is the first distillation. Cazulo is obtained after the second distillation (but is not commonly consumed). And, Fenny is the product of the third distillation process.

Coconut fenny/feni is distilled from pure coconut toddy. There are lesser of these distilleries than those of Kaaju feni in Goa.

Palm wine/Palm Toddy/Toddy is famous in parts of Goa, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu – it goes by different names depending on the region, e.g. arrack, palm feni, village gin, charayam and country whisky – and is most popular in Kerala where it is known as kallu. It is used as a substitute to yeast and added to appam and idli dough.

There is ancient, documented Tamil proof of production and consumption of highly fermented, sour drinks such as toddy derived from coconut, Palmyra, paddy, the root of fig trees, bark of the Usilam (Sirisa) tree, Peepal, and flowers of Iluppai (Mahua, a mildly alcoholic traditional drink, flavoured, bottled and sold by the Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India). Also a distilled liquor from sugarcane called Mattu which is recommended as an aphrodisiac; and Undaattu (sold by a patuvi – lady who sells liquor) which is an eponymous spirit that requires one to dance after drinking.

Toddy is extracted from flower-buds of coconut palms. A man climbs up the coconut tree to the bud, pierces it, ties a clay pot to collect the sap and covers the pot with cotton cloth. This tapping is done late in the evening. The next morning or a day later, the pot containing the collected and by then fermented juice (milk/sap) is brought down and immediately consumed.

Neera (North India) or Padhaneer (Tamil Nadu) is obtained in the same manner from coconut and date palms (toddy trees) but is tapped early morning and consumed immediately so no fermentation takes place because after a few hours it can naturally ferment and become Toddy containing 4% alcohol! The sap is clear and sweet. In 2011 the Coconut Development Board launched a project promoting neera as a non-alcoholic nutritious drink in Karnataka although tapping neera has been prevalent in Kerala for centuries.

In north and central India (particularly in Orissa) flowers and fruit of the Mahua or Indian butter tree are fermented along with chhowa gud or molasses in granular form, to produce a country liquor of the same name. Many tribes consider drinking it as part of their cultural heritage. Salpo is also a local brew/liquor from Orissa.

Incidentally elephants love Mahua (and any thing fermented) and entire herds in Bihar are known to get sloshed following which they go on a rampage of nearby villages.

Madhya Pradesh began marketing Mahua not as “country liquor” but as “premium heritage liquor” and encourages its use in health drinks, chocolates and cookies.


Illicit hooch is consumed by many poor people and is frequently the cause of tragedy.

As dusk falls it is common to see handcarts selling eggs (hard-boiled, fried or bhurji) in almost every town, kasba and village of rural India because it has become the favoured snack that accompanies liquor.

During the 5 days of 2012 Onam the Beverages Corporation made an astounding Rs 300 crore in liquor sales. (Christmas time was no different.) Soon after, the Kerala High Court advised the state government to ban drinking before 5 pm. In Kerala the per capita consumption of alcohol was 11.1 litres – the highest in India. Then in 2014 the state announced liquor prohibition in a phased manner, but it was not implemented.

As of 2023, alcohol or liquor prohibition was in force in Gujarat, Bihar, Nagaland and Mizoram states and the union territory of Lakshadweep.

In 2023 it was reported that states such as Haryana had reduced excise duty on beer making retailing easier. Punjab, Uttarkhand, Odisha and Rajasthan did not increase it. Moreover, Uttarakhand allowed beer to be sold in departmental stores and malls and Punjab allowed retail shops that sold “beer only”. The aim was to encourage low-alcohol beverages like beer (3.5 to 8% alcohol content) over spirits and reduce harmful effects of alcohol consumption.

The legal drinking age (sale to and consumption of) varies from state to state but the majority are 21 years.

“Dry Days” are specific days when the sale of alcohol is not permitted. They fall on major national holidays and festivals as well as on voting days.

On 31 March 2017 the Supreme Court ordered a ban on serving liquor at commercial establishments that included pubs, bars, hotels and restaurants within 500 metres of state and national highways. The Excise authorities also came down heavily on liquor shops operating in the vicinity of hospitals, educational institutions and places of worship. Not only did this affect the liquor industry, but the poultry industry immediately saw a 40% dip in sales which goes to prove that the majority of those who drink alcohol eat meat with it. Realising that a ban on liquor consumption is closely linked to a big fall in non-veg consumption, BWC approached the Minister of Railways to get liquor shops in the vicinity of stations also closed.

In 2021 Gujarat declared the Asiatic lion as the new mascot for prohibition depicting a cartoon of a lion with a crown and slogan in Gujarati: Hoon daru peeto nathi chhata hoon raj chhu. Nashabandhi aapna dwara, aapna maate. (Translation: Though, I do not drink, I am still the king of the jungle. Prohibition of liquor by us, for all.)

Basic Meanings

Peg: a unit or measure of liquor in India. A small peg is 30 ml. A large peg is 60 ml. Since in India liquor’s alcohol content is fixed at 42.8% alcohol by volume, it follows that a peg of liquor contains 25.68 ml of pure alcohol. (A Patiala/Parsi peg is double a large peg or 120 ml.)

Spirit and Liquor: they are the same – drinkable booze.

Premix: A flavoured alcoholic drink tasting like say gin, rum or vodka. A colloquial word for Premix is Alcopop.

Liqueur and Cordial: they are the same – sweetened distilled alcoholic beverages. Cordial could also be non-alcoholic.

Apéritif/Aperitivo: drinks served before a meal so usually dry and low in alcohol. Vermouth, aromatized wines and dry sherry are served in Europe. A cocktail can also count as an aperitif. In India, whisky, rum, vodka, gin, etc. are generally consumed before dinner.

Digestif/Digestivo: drinks served after a meal to help digestion, such as brandy, whisky, port, cream sherry, amaro/bitters, herbal/sweet liqueurs and dessert cocktails. (Scotch whisky being an after-dinner drink only is a misconception.)

Beer is not an apéritif or digestif as such because it can be consumed any time, even during a meal like table/dessert wines.

Contents of some Drinks

Ambergris-laced sugar: ambergris is a solid waxy substance produced in the intestines of sperm whales – this sugar added to a cocktail, raises its price and is a marketing gimmick.

Bar mix / sour mix / sweet-n-sour mix: lemon / lime juice, sugar syrup, water, egg white usually added as a foaming agent.

Barbecue sauce: traditionally non-veg flavoured with pork, beef and chicken and other smoky flavours, also contains tomato paste, vinegar, spices, sweeteners.

Bitters: commonly used ingredient of cocktails, a bitter or bitter-sweet tasting, and herbal, alcoholic essence.

Bloody Mary: tomato juice, vodka, Tabasco sauce, horseradish, celery, olive, pepper, lemon juice, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce (anchovies), bouillon (beef).

Chocolate liquor: sweet syrup of chocolate and sugar – without alcohol. (It is used in drinks and also in other chocolate flavoured products like candy.)

Club soda / soda water / seltzer: water containing sodium bicarbonate (mineral), charged with carbon dioxide.

Cobbler: long drink of fruit juices, wine / spirit.

Cock-Ale: exactly what it says, it contains a boiled cock (male chicken) and ale (a type of beer) fermented with raisins, etc.

Cocktail: mixed drink containing at least two liquids, one of which is alcoholic.

Cocktail sauce: ketchup, horseradish, lime juice, coriander, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce (anchovies).

Cordial: sugar, water, flavour (usually lime), tartaric acid (veg). A stimulating tonic; could be a liqueur.

Egg: commonly used in cocktails either raw or powdered egg white or yolks, for imparting froth to drinks.

Eggnog (Kogel-mogel/Gogl-mogl, Coquito, Eierpunsch): milk or cream, sugar or honey, eggs, rum or brandy, vanilla essence.

Energy drinks: A 16 fl oz/30 ml can of an energy drink, may contain 13 teaspoons of sugar and the amount of caffeine found in four or more colas. Other ingredients include taurine, glucuronolactone, B vitamins, ginseng, guarana, ginkgo biloba and milk thistle. Adding alcohol to the mix, as some people do, can be a recipe for disaster.

Flip, fizz, sours, syllabub, shake, and sundae: can contain milk / cream, eggs and/or wine / spirit.

Frosé: a slushy ice cocktail made with rosé wine, lemon juice and sugar.

Gimlet: lime juice, sugar, gin. (Vodka Gimlet contains vodka, not gin.)

Gold flakes / gold varkh: non-vegetarian as mostly made between ox-gut – used to garnish Champagne cocktails.

Grenadine syrup: any red coloured syrup e.g. pomegranate (original and authentic content plus sugar and water), cherry, raspberry, redcurrant, and blackberry. American imitations don’t contain fruit at all but high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, red colour/cochineal (insect origin) and natural and artificial flavours.

Honey: nectar – collected by bees as food for themselves.

Hot Toddy (contains no toddy): brandy, hot water, sugar or honey, spices.

Irish coffee: black coffee, (Irish) whiskey, brown sugar, cream.

Jelly: veg or non-veg – can contain gelatine (made from animal bones, horns, hooves).

La Paloma: Tequila, grapefruit juice, soda, lemon twist.

Manhattan: Vermouth (can be sweet, dry or with a 50/50 blend), rye whiskey and bitters.

Maraschino cherries: Maraschino is a brand. A red food dye such as cochineal (insect origin) is added to the preserved and sweetened cherries.

Margarita: Tequila, Cointreau or (blue) Curaçao, lime juice.

Marmite: Brewer’s yeast extract from barley, wheat, oats & rye (sticky almost like molasses), salt, veg juice concentrate, B vitamins and celery. (The spread is certified as vegan by the European Vegetarian Union.)

Marshmallow: sugar, gelatine (made from animal bones, horns, hooves), water, flavour. (Vegan marshmallow is available.)

Mate/chimarrão/cimarrón: South American infused drink prepared from steeping dried leaves of yerba maté in hot water. It is usually drunk through a special metal straw from a cup made of leather.

Martini: dry gin, dry vermouth, green olive or lemon twist, bitters.

Martinez: mildly sweet gin and sweet vermouth.

Mocktail: a cocktail without alcohol as an ingredient, e.g. Shirley Temple Mocktail.

: Cuban rum, lime juice, sugar syrup, club soda and mint leaves garnish.

Oyster sauce: mollusks / oysters (marine creatures), cornstarch, caramel. (Vegetarian oyster sauce is made from mushrooms and taste enhancers.)

Piña colada: pineapple juice, creamed coconut or coconut milk, rum.

Punch: fruit juices, carbonated water, spices, wine or liquor.

Screwdriver: orange juice, lemon juice, vodka.

Seasoning (branded): veg or non-veg liquid or semi-solid protein imparting aroma and flavour.

Shandy: beer, lemonade.

Shirley Temple Mocktail (a non-alcoholic drink): lemon / lime soda or ginger ale, grenadine syrup, Maraschino cherry.

Sidecar: cognac/armagnac/bourbon, orange liqueur, lemon juice, sugar on rim of cocktail glass.

Soft cola drinks: may contain ester gum as emulsifier/stabilizer. Ester gum manufacture uses glycerol which can be of animal origin. The Earth Island Journal of USA printed that although Coca-Cola refuses to reveal the contents of its drink, independent laboratory tests suggest that each can contains about 6.5 teaspoons of sugar, a jolting 40-72 milligrams of addictive caffeine, a pinch of glycerine and a splash of alcohol. Follow-up with the company in USA finally resulted in their admitting that glycerine (could be of animal or non-animal origin) in the form of glycerol ester of wood rosin is an ingredient in Coca-Cola. In 2011 after 125 years Coke’s ingredients were revealed, but the secret 7X flavour (2 oz in 5 gal of syrup) that gives the soft drink its distinctive taste continues to remain a mystery.

Sunrise: Tequila, orange juice, grenadine syrup.

Tonic water: carbonated water with or without flavours added. Gin and tonic is common. It is said that the quinine in tonic water had at bedtime helps to keep night cramps away.

Tom Collins: gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup, club soda, Maraschino cherry.

Worcestershire sauce: frequently used in cocktails and even mocktails, contains anchovies or small common salt water forage fish, along with vinegar, molasses, corn syrup, water, chilli peppers, soy, pepper, tamarind, onions, cloves, asafoetida/hing, and garlic. (Veg Worcestershire sauce with similar ingredients but without anchovies is available.)

Draft Food Safety and Standards (Alcoholic Beverages Standards) Regulation 2016

In September 2016, the Government of India gazetted the above regulation and invited objections or suggestions from any one.

Beauty Without Cruelty has therefore written to the CEO of FSSAI requesting that the Government make it mandatory for all drinks sold in India to display ingredients and affix either a green veg symbol or brown non-veg symbol on the bottles, just as in the case of packaged food articles. Consumers have the right to know whether the drinks they are buying contain animal ingredients or not.

We are hopeful of a positive response although many manufacturers do affix the symbols.

Page last updated on 21/08/23