National Heritage Spirit of India – MAHUA Remained Untapped
Mahua is a uniquely Indian spirit. The Mahua trees grow abundantly in the forests and plains of 13 States in Central and Northern India and almost nowhere else in the world. It is also the only spirit in the world that is distilled from a naturally sweet flower. Mahua has one of the lowest concentrations of methanol, a congener that is responsible for causing hangovers, for any pot-distilled bouquet spirit, and is arguably one the most versatile spirits of this kind.
Mahua is an indigenous spirit of India that has been distilled traditionally, for centuries, from the flowers of Madhuca Longifolia or the Mahua tree. The Mahua tree is central to the culture of the tribal people of India, generically referred to as Adivasi, from Eastern Rajasthan &; Gujarat, through the entire Central forest belt of India, through Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, all the way to Bengal.
The Central Indian tribes consider the tree sacred and an embodiment of Mother Nature herself. They call it Kalpavriksha, or the tree of life. In these parts of the country, much of the folklore, songs, art, poetry, and rituals revolve around the Mahua tree. Entire forests may be cleared, but the Mahua trees will be left standing.
With the onset of spring, the Mahua tree loses its leaves and erupts with tassel-like buds. Mahua flowers are tree-ripened and collected (never plucked) — they fall in the morning for 30 days between March through May. Post collection, the flowers are sun-dried.
The indigenous people of India use the sundried flowers as food for themselves and as fodder for their livestock, they sell them for cash and barter them for grain, as the flowering season coincides with the agricultural lean season. But the most important purpose of these flowers are put to is make the Mahua spirit. This indigenous drink is part of all celebrations among the Central Indian tribes, be it births, deaths, or weddings.
Traditional Mahua is produced by fermenting the sundried flowers in water, mostly with the addition of jaggery. The fermentation is aided by the addition of “ranu”, a dry rice ball with herbs and yeast. The resultant ferment is generally single-distilled in a rudimentary, rustic pot still. Women are the predominant distillers, with the art often being passed down from mother to daughter. Country Mahua is consumed in a hyper-local manner. The distillate does not travel more than a few kilometers.
To increase revenue from Excise as well as to check intemperance, British colonials in India introduced various mercenary and puritanical acts that deemed the manufacture of Mahua illegal and placed heavy taxes on its sale, thereby pushing it into the shadows, where it has continued to languish through the 70 plus years of India’s independence.
Mahua is a national treasure that has remained hidden in plain sight…
Despite all these salient features, Mahua’s capacity to be a national heritage spirit of India has remained untapped. Non-standardized processes and illegalized Mahua trade have rendered the taste and quality of Mahua lost to time. What Mahua needs is a vision and one company, Agave Industries India Pvt. Ltd., decided to step in and lead the way.
They are India’s first producers of multiple distilled Mahua that aren’t categorized as a lowly country liquor, and have set a high benchmark for international production standards and quality. Of late, across the country, state governments and organizations dedicated to the preservation of Indian tribes, are waking up to the rich potential and legacy of this age-old tribal spirit and will hopefully participate in scripting Mahua’s re-emergence.