Rice beer, the beverage of the Naga lore
Kohima, Dec. 10: Fermented rice beer continues to be a popular beverage for the Naga people for centuries, and a cultural staple from the headhunting era. Every Naga tribe has its own unique method and ingredients to making the perfect white, rice brew.
During this year’s edition of the Hornbill Festival at Kisama in Kohima, almost all the ‘morungs’ (Generic Naga for male dormitory) and food stalls were selling rice beer except for a few of them. One might be wondering how each and every tribe makes this beer and how it tastes. Eastern Mirror visited some of the morungs to find out.
The Phom morung was selling two varieties of beer namely the glutinous (called by locals as ‘sticky’) rice beer, and the common rice beer. The brew master B Dau-Aok Phom explained to this reporter how rice beer is made by their tribe. Rice is initially ground and mixed with water to form a white paste. It is then mixed with dried quinoa leaves and quinoa. It is then kept in a damp room for nine days to ferment. Later, it is blended and the liquid is extracted from the paste with the help of a strainer and water. The beer has a strong nutty, sweet and sour flavour with an alcoholic aroma in the beginning but after it is swallowed, the tongue remains bitter.
There is only one type of rice beer that was available at the Khiamniungan morung. It is called ‘vontem’ is their dialect. A staff member of the stall, Meshang, said that the brew is made from glutinous rice.
The rice is ground and boiled until cooked. ‘Opan’ (Khiamniungan for ‘quinoa’) is added to help the rice ferment quicker. It is then kept in a closed vessel or a container for five to six days during winter season and two to three days during summer. Liquid is extracted with the help of water and strainer. Meshang said that their forefathers used ‘bitter eggplants and chilies’ for fermentation. It has a light alcoholic nutty taste.
The Ao morung was selling only one type of rice beer, the one made from common rice. Ground rice is boiled until cooked and mixed with yeast until it cools down. It is left for one week to ferment. Liquid is then extracted through a strainer or a bamboo filter and water. It has a thick texture and a mild alcoholic aroma.
The rice beer that the Chang tribe makes is made from ground millet and rice at 50:50 ratios. It is boiled until cooked. Local yeast is added as the paste it cools. The yeast is made from red coloured rice known to them as ‘tokai.’ The mixture is then kept in an air-tight container for three to four days to ferment.
The fermented liquid is extracted through a local made basket, drop-by-drop. The brew has a slightly yellowish colour. It has a blend of bitter-sweet taste and strong alcoholic taste. One could get drunk if taken too much.
The Lotha tribe makes local types of the local brew namely ‘chumcho’ and common rice beer. A member of that stall, Shalomshan T Lotha, told this reporter that the brew is made from ground millet and rice. The process of fermentation is similar to that of the other tribes. It has a sweet slightly strong alcoholic taste.
The Pochury morung was selling one type of beer which was claimed to be ‘pure rice beer.’ Alice Irakha, the one in charge of the stall, said that the brew is made from ground glutinous rice. It is boiled until cooked and left to ferment over a week.
The fermented paste is then kept in a bamboo basket for the ‘pure’ liquid to ooze out, drop-by-drop. It has a bitter-sour alcoholic taste.
It is to be noted that there are some morungs that sell their own uniquely-made rice beer but could not give further details of the brew process as the brew masters were stationed elsewhere while some morungs were not selling rice beer. All the local beer cost INR 100 for a bamboo mug.
Another stall by the name ‘United MPCS,’ abbreviated as multipurpose cooperative society, was selling three varieties of local beer namely finger millet beer, glutinous rice beer, and jobs tear beer, which is made exclusively by the Zeliang tribe. The pulses were sourced from Peren.
The supervisor of the brew, Sibeule Hegui, also the chairman of MPCS, explained that they use rice yeast for fermentation. They keep the paste for one to three months to ferment. She said it makes the beer stronger with time.
Each beer has a sweet, fruity alcoholic flavour and leaves sweetness in the mouth after it is swallowed, finger millet beer being the strongest one on the list.
They also have containers made with the skin of a wax gourd called ‘kelah.’ Customers who wished to take the brew home could store it in the kelah. Each mug cost INR 100.