Those of you who have seen the television series, The Thirsty Traveler, are likely to have said to yourself, “That guy has the best job in the world!” The show’s Canadian host Kevin Brauch will agree, having travelled around the world sampling the finest spirits, wines and beers.
Starting 6 November, Indian viewers can see Brauch globe-sipping on the lifestyle channel TLC in new episodes of The Thirsty Traveler. We caught up with the beverage connoisseur in Delhi over what he calls an essentially Indian cocktail: vodka garnished with green chilli and served in a glass rimmed with red chilli powder. Edited excerpts:
High five: Brauch has sampled spirits in around 60 countries so far. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
What does a drink or spirit say about the culture where it is produced?
It doesn’t necessarily identify a country but it’s a great way to get under the skin of a local culture. Some wines, beers or spirits speak of certain customs and traditions. Some were integral to celebrations and traditional family gatherings. In Canada, for instance, one could take the Molson Canadian or the Labatt Blue and build cultural significance around them as the representative beers of our national phenomena: our obsession with hockey.
In Japan, business is only conducted when business partners have had enough to drink. It is believed that intoxication can bring out the devil in one’s personality. And the sake—a slow, ceremonial drink—fits into this modus operandi.
If you come to India to film, what drink would you profile?
When The Thirsty Traveler comes to India, like we’re planning to soon, we’d have to make it a 1-hour special (laughs). It would be impossible to pick a single drink but I’d say feni, palm-wine and definitely Kingfisher!
What about Old Monk?
Haven’t tried it yet but The Thirsty Traveler is about trying new things. So Old Monk may be the next one.
You say you’re fascinated by the stories that surround drinking cultures around the world. Tell us one.
This one’s universal: the etymology of “Cheers”! According to one theory, the Vikings used to clink their pewter vessels against each others’ as if to slosh poison from one vessel to another. The “clinking” ritual was a gesture to prove the safety of the drink; that they hadn’t poisoned their rival’s drink. In time, the tradition changed and has now come to be performed amongst trusted companions.
What about the various rituals involved in drinking?
Oh, those aren’t confined to lost tribal communities. In Korea, it is considered improper to have an even number of drinks. So on any evening, you’d either have one, three or five. Friends will always pour out soju for each other and you will always accept it with both hands. Most interestingly, younger women will turn away to sip their drink if they’re in the presence of an older gentleman. It’s a throwback to the times when it wasn’t considered proper for young women to be drinking in public.
What’s been the most bizarre drink featured on the show so far?
There was the snake baijiu from Taiwan. A distilled rice spirit with the glands, testicles and penis from a King Cobra. But my scariest experience was with the chicha—an indigenous drink from Peru made with ground corn, river water and yeast. Traditionally, the brewer spits into the concoction to speed up the fermentation process. It’s an easy home brew with 5-6% alcohol. When a family has chicha they’re ready to sell they stick a bamboo pole with a red flag out of their window.
I was warned beforehand about drinking it...untreated river water and all that. But I believe it’s my duty to sip anything that is presented to me…even if I don’t finish it. The first day we went to film, I had some and quite liked it. The spit didn’t really bother me but the thing is that sometimes the drink is still fermenting while you’re having it. The next day’s brew had this strong acidic bite and I fell deathly sick. I lost about 11 pounds in five days.
What’s your signature cocktail when you’re at home entertaining?
Ah, something I made myself: The Stag’s Head cocktail. It’s a concoction of Jägermeister, rum and Cointreau—it’s sweet and savoury.
You must suffer from a lot of hangovers. What’s your secret?
Denial. End of story! Failing that—a morning run, espresso and sunglasses.
The Thirsty Traveler will air on TLC from 6 November, every Saturday, at 11.30pm.