There’s a popular story that is now recounted among sommeliers of heritage brews in India. In the 13th century, Rana Hammir Chauhan of Ranthambhore found himself wanting in the bedroom, thanks to his 11 wives. A saint came to his rescue, giving him the recipe for a concoction that would endow him with the vitality of a hundred steeds. The recipe for the grand aphrodisiac is still safe with the Mahansar royal family: a royal secret.
Man Singh of Kanota’s royal family claims that their wildly popular heritage brew—Chandra Haas—has miraculous properties too. the blend, concocted for the first time in 1863 by their jagirdars, features close to 80 herbs, including saffron, rose, white sandalwood, safed musli (indian spider plant), nutmeg and anise. Man Singh compares its revitalising and disease-combating powers to the asura-vanquishing blade of vishnu’s khadag. “Iss mein sabhi rogon ko kaatne ki kshamta hai... [it’s capable of curing all ailments.] The recipe clearly mentions that it can restore youth in a 100-year-old if taken regularly. Who knows what it might bring upon you?” Singh quips.
Royal families across Rajasthan had their own liqueur versions, with Mahansar’s even going back to the 1770s. However, it was after the establishment of a state-of-the-art distillery in Jodhpur in 1924 that commercial production took off. The brews were banned as the nation got independence, and they instantly retraced their steps to the royal houses that they had trickled out of, to bide their time as ‘baap dada ki daaru’ for royal posterity.
In 2006, the Chandra Haas, along with seven other heritage spirits from different royal families, began to be produced by the Rajasthan State Ganganagar Sugar Mills Ltd, at its distillery in Jaipur. The method of production—including the use of traditional ware for distillation and fermentation—and the ingredients remained the same, but molasses made way for spirit. The three erstwhile classes of liquors—ikbara for the hoi polloi, dobaara for the officers, and asaav exclusively for the royals—underwent a distillation to emerge as a shared swig of royal history.
Kesar Kasturi, Saunf, Jagmohan, Mawalin, Elaichi—all of them can give the headiest of tipples a run for their money. To be had as a shot or two (30ml each) after a grand country meal, these blends are strong, herbaceous, and overpowering. A case in point is the late actor Roger Moore, who fell in love with Kesar Kasturi as he filmed for the Bond flick Octopussy here. With Kesar Kasturi, the use of the musk of the black deer (kasturi) was discontinued owing to prohibition under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The brew is now prepared using saffron and a variety of herbs, roots, dry fruits, spices and nuts, all blended with milk, crystal sugar and ghee.
Hailing from the House of Marwar, the Royal Jagmohan was born in Kishangarh, as an older heritage liqueur called Manmohan, which was distilled in royal cellars. The Jagmohan is a lively mix of herbs, spices, seasonal fruits, murabba and barks, and is primarily a warming winter brew.
The Royal Mawalin is said to have come from the aristocratic cellars of the Sodawas of Jodhpur, and its recipe was conceded as a jagir by Maharaja Umaid Singh to Thakur Bishan Singh of Osian. This bitter spirit is restorative and said to improve digestion and help in colds and body aches. It has close to 40 ingredients, the majority of which are local spices, along with dates and dry fruits.
One might not really get a taste of the munawwar pyala that kings and chieftains served to their foreign guests. One might not even feel the blood of a hundred horses coursing through them after a sip of Mahansar Thikana’s coveted Royal Saunf that turns milky upon adding water, but even a shot of Rajasthan’s heady heritage liqueurs will prove to be a dip into its royal past.