Goa’s Desmond Nazareth, known in tipsy circles as DesmondJi, is telling us about the peacock who, intoxicated by mahua, missed his coronation, causing the ullu (owl) to fly over and take the throne instead. “Moral of the story: there is nothing quite as fulfilling as power. Unless someone's serving mahua.”
Desmond should know. He’s spent the better part of the last five years with tribals in Jharkhand and Orissa, collecting Mahua tree flowers and folk tales, fermenting the former in an Andhra Pradesh plant and distilling it into “top quality” bottled mahua that you can buy in Goa.
“Mahua is more than a drink. It is a potent retelling of India’s colourful tribal history. In its heady aroma and piquant tang lie the essence of centuries of brilliant folk storytelling and art,” Desmond says over the phone, simultaneously emailing us a pdf full of folk tales centered around mahua, featuring flying elephants and tipsy carpenters.
Desmond has discovered countless stories and paintings about the glory of this spirit native to tribes in Central India, but the thing he most wants to preserve is the very art of making it. “I’m really excited to take mahua to many, and will soon start lobbying for it to become India’s national spirit.”
The IIT Madras graduate with his wild hair and wilder cocktail recipes, is also the maker of Indian agave; liqueur from Nagpur oranges; and a cachaca-ish spirit made from sugar cane, all sold under the DesmondJi label.
His latest “forest-to-bottle” mahua is available as a spirit - sweetish, floral and potent but smooth - and as a liqueur blended with honey and spices (both 40% ABV). There’s also a sparkling mahua in the works that Desmond hopes will compete with prosecco, but until then you can mix yours with tonic water and some lime.
Desmond does not have a license to sell the mahua in other Indian states yet, so let this be the spirit + folk story you bring back from a trip to Goa. Granted you can employ more enjoyable methods to see flying elephants in Anjuna, but this one’s legal and smells like flowers.
Getting there: Buy DesmondJi’s DJ Mahua & DJ Mahua Liqueur in Goa’s wine stores at Rs 975 for 750 ml & Rs 1,275 for 750 ml respectively. Also available in 90 ml bottles. Follow DesmondJi on Instagram here.
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