Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Sludgy Pleasures of Zu

March 25th, 2009 · 2 Comments

nagazuThe Nagas of the India-Burma border region are especially dear to my heart, seeing as how they play a pivotal role in Now the Hell Will Start. They were always gracious during my travels through the Patkai Mountains, despite facing myriad problems of their own (beginning with a tenuous security situation). And a big part of their hospitality includes the doling out of zutho, or zu, a cloudy rice beer that is the Bud of the Indo-Burmese jungle.

Zu gained much renown among British explorers, who could only carry so much gin with them on expeditions. (Perish the thought that a surveyor of the raj spend a single night sober.) Yet the brewing process has long remained a closely guarded Naga secret, akin to Colonel Sanders delicious blend of herbs and spices.

But, oh, how scientists have tried to unlock the tipple’s secrets. In 2002, a pair of Japanese microbiologists collected a zu sample from just outside Kohima and subjected it to all manner of high-tech tests. They succeeded in identifying the active yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also used in many Western-style ales. The microbiologists also struck a somewhat dismissive tone about zu‘s potential mainstream appeal, describing it as a “a whitish porridge-like slurry containing 5.0% (v/v) ethanol.”

In my own experience, zu is much thinner than oatmeal, and more akin to nigori sake than anything else. It actually has a surprisingly light, crisp taste, with just a hint of effervescence. As for the alcohol content, the Japanese seem to have received a bum batch—a night of zu caused me a hangover of Bukowiski-esque proportions. I’ve only felt that bad once since, after mistakenly experimenting with this.

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