Cheers to Our Native Booze!

Text by Evangeline Neve

If you’re reading this, an article dedicated to booze, it’s likely that you’ve tasted aila before, whether at a Newari restaurant, bhoj of some sort, or perhaps in the comfort of your own home, if you’re lucky enough to have a mother or grandmother who makes the good stuff.

My own aila experiences have come to me via the feasts and restaurants route, and also through friends, with whom I’ve had the opportunity to sample some truly awesome and varied types of aila—from the firewater to the weak-and-watery. Once I had a drink from a truly delicious batch that was over twenty-five years old, aged to nuanced perfection, from a source that is probably still gaining years.

But while aila can be amazing on its own, there’s only so much of it an average person can put away. It is, after all, quite potent. So, that’s why I think it’s a great idea that Dokhaima Café, in Patan Dhoka, has been experimenting with mixed drinks using aila.

The idea originated with Professor Bruce McCoy Owens, an anthropologist at Wheaton College in the U.S., who visits Nepal on a regular basis. I’ve not met him myself, but the staff has told me of his enthusiasm for Nepal in general, and Newari culture in particular—he’s even fluent in the Newari language! It was his suggestion to experiment with incorporating aila into cocktails.

Working with the bartending team, he helped develop some drinks that have become mainstays on the bar menu at the Dokhaima Café ever since. I sat down to try three of them: the Aila Mary, Nilo Ailarita, and Nepatini. (The local booze menu also includes drinks made with local rum and brandy, but I skipped those in favor of the traditional local options.) The aila used is sourced hyper-locally, from Patan itself, and the aila-filled brass anti occupies a central pride of place amongst the alcohol bottles you’d typically find behind a bar.

First up, the Aila Mary, as you might guess, is a take on a traditional Bloody Mary, with the aila standing in for the usual vodka. This is an interesting combo—the aila punches through stronger than you expect, and at times overwhelms the tomato juice. On the plus side, the spicy hit blends well with the Nepali alcohol and the overall effect is, while unusual, very tasty indeed.

The second drink up for sampling was the Nilo Ailarita—a creative riff on a margarita. Lime juice and triple sec marry well with the aila, with the salt rim and surprise addition of blue curacao along the bottom of the glass providing pleasant counterpoints. This is a margarita unlike anything you’ve had before, and it would pair well with some tasty snacks or just as refreshment on a warm evening.

The Nepatini is the most popular of the three aila cocktails with customers, bartender Subash Thapa tells me. He’s been with the café for eleven years now, and is experienced in what he does, with the confidence to show for it. One sip and I was smiling—it’s easy to see why this drink has become such a firm favorite with the café's client: the aila marries perfectly with mango and lime juices, plus triple sec. It’s served in a martini glass, but don’t expect it to be a martini: just let yourself get carried away by this innovative and altogether delicious drink. This is one I’ll be coming back for!

The menu promotes “imbibing these local specialties” as a way to “do your part to reduce the trade deficit and support our local spiritual culture.” I’m quoting them because I couldn’t say it better myself. I couldn’t decide if the reference to ‘spiritual culture’ was an intentional or accidental play on words, but either way it’s a pretty sweet truth, and one more good reason to visit the Dokhaima Café, already a great place to eat and chill, and sample one—or all—of these drinks.

Dokhaima Café (01-5522113) is located at Patan Dhoka, Patan; opens 8 a.m.-9 p.m. every day.