By Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi
The third-largest selling rum in the world has never been advertised. Its biggest advertisers are its fans who each have opinions as potent as the alcohol content in the squat, textured bottle.
Old-time drinkers will insist it has notes of vanilla and chocolate. They will be shot down by others who find toffee, nutmeg and pepper. I have seen online reviews that gush about its flavors of maple, brown butter, oak, dried herbs and leather. The only thing everyone seems to agree on, really, is that it is delicious.
Everything about this drink is extreme. There is no agreement on how to drink it. There are raging debates on how to enjoy it most. Best friends sharing a drink will fight over neat versus putting it on ice. Folks have it with a twist of lime, or a splash of water to 'open it up'.
Among rum 'n' Coke drinkers, lobbyists from various camps are battling out the virtues of diet over regular. The Thums Up camp say that only the Indian cola's heavy carbonation is worth Old Monk. Others will blaspheme, mixing Sprite into the rum, destroying it. In the Indian services, it is not frowned upon to put a slit green chili in the highball glass. For all its legend, in its home country it costs a mere five dollars.
Old Monk is a vatted seven-year-old rum made from sugarcane by Mohan Meakin breweries in Mohan Nagar, near Ghaziabad, in Uttar Pradesh, India. Mohan Meakin was originally Dyer Breweries, which made India and even Asia's first beer. It was started by Britisher Edward Dyer who moved to India to start making Lion beer in the 1850s so as to would satisfy the beer-craving British administration at the time. A series of sales and acquisitions by two fellows named Meakin and then Mohan have given the company its current name. While the company continues to make beer, rum, other sprits and things like cereal, this is the brand, an unadvertised one, that it is most recognized by.
The rum, despite its pious name, is ironically marked XXX, is a dark coppery amber spirit, enough to be opaque in the bottle and velvety on the tongue. With 42.8 per cent alcohol, having enough of this world-class rum can also give you world-class hangovers.
Exactly this also makes it the sort of drink that stories are made from. People in bars sitting on different tables will find instant camaraderie if they see another person drinking Old Monk. For many college students, because of the stories they have heard from their parents and older cousins, the rum is their foray into drinking harder liquor. The spirit breeds this sort of loyalty. When someone starts a story about the night they were drinking Old Monk, you know that laughter is guaranteed. A friend whose grandfather was in the army told me that in the North East of India, civilians would get someone buy truckloads of the rum from the army discount shop and use it as currency. It is also rumored that the chairman of Suzuki, a booze buff, thought it was the best alcohol to have come out of India and kept a bottle in his personal bar.
So when I moved to New York nine months ago, among the things I had to bring with me were two bottles of Old Monk. My classmates from the French Culinary Institute would come over after a night on the town to have some "Indian rum". They'd shoot it or sip it, not minding that they were drinking out of ramekins in my poorly-stocked kitchen. A friend who doesn't drink much started pouring hers in a wineglass and found that she could sip it all night. Clearly, I had to keep asking visiting friends and family to top up my stock.
Luckily, there are some stores in Amrica and Europe where you can buy the real stuff. I have seen some websites sell it. For 15 bucks as its imported price, it breaks my heart a little bit, but I quickly forget after a few sips.