Seeing as this column, or page, shared by good friends Shaun, Dollydi and others, is being titled Food & Drink, I thought for a change to write exclusively on drink, to which I am rather partial.
I sat for a quiz team once, at the Dalhousie Institute, arguably the nursery of quizzing in India. The quiz master was Neil Brien and the question that he threw at our team was, What is a guala cap? We gazed back at him blankly, as did all the other 28 masterminds at the other seven tables, and finally the question went to the audience, who gazed back even more blankly.
Its not often that quiz masters enjoy the feeling of divulging an answer themselves, but this time the question did come all the way back to Mr Brien and he told us that a guala cap was the little plastic device fitted to the mouth of a 750 ml bottle of any alcoholic spirit sold in India. It ensures, like a one-way valve, that you can pour the liquid out of the bottle, but you cant pour anything into the bottle, and thus guards against adulteration or dilution.
There was well-deserved applause from all of us for a good quiz question, and Ill never forget the incident. But it did have me thinking: Can it only happen in India? Are our bartenders in clubs, bars, hostels and restaurants so mean that they would put water into our whisky, for which most of us are paying hard-earned money, even before they poured us a peg? Bottles of 350 ml and 180 ml, which are never sold by wholesale dealers to these clubs, bars etc., but are bought for personal consumption, do not have guala caps. Is that a pointer to anything? And if there was a gualas (milkmans) union, how would they react to this slur on their honesty and integrity?
In the old days, supplies of Scotch depended mainly on bootleggers and it was said that dishonest bootleggers would replace good Scotch with spurious whisky by heating the glass at the bottom of the bottle, inserting a heated syringe needle, drawing out some of the good whisky and replacing it with local stuff. This way, they managed to make whatever they had go a longer way. Of course, all that is unnecessary nowadays as virtually all brands can be bought over the counter. But with guala caps.
It really would be a rum thing if guala caps were in fact invented to prevent malpractice by the gentlemen all over the country who pour our drinks. As it is, most of them short-change us. Every time we ask for a 60 ml or a 30 ml peg of anything, we never really get that. No one really fills a peg measure to the brim; the precious spirit might spill over, and why should they give us more?
I have a nice old-fashioned, hour-glass-shaped silver peg measure at home, 60 ml on one side and 30 ml on the other, bought many years ago at the S.S. Hogg Market. On the 60 ml side (I seldom use the other), the diameter is about 4.8 cm which means that the radius is 2.4 cm. This means that, if it is filled to even 2 mm short of the brim, the volume by which it falls short of 60 ml (1 ml = 1 cm³) is, using r2h, (3.14 X 2.4 X 2.4 X 0.2) or 3.6 cm³ which is nearly 4 ml less each time. If we multiply that by the billions of peg served in a given year, we are surely being hard done by.
The only exception I have personally seen is good old Oly Pub on Park Street, a favourite watering hole for several generations. Here, they will actually allow the peg measure to overflow quite substantially into your glass and they will do it every time. I have never seen this being done deliberately anywhere else, and a musician friend from another part of the world was so impressed that he actually recorded this on his handycam.
A seafaring friend of mine with whom it is a ritual, whenever we meet, to crack a bottle of single malt, always fills a capful first, and empties it into a flower pot or just flings those few drops into the night air, saying, Thats for the powers that be who look after us. Perhaps thats a philosophical way of dealing with those lost millilitres.
(Do you feel short-changed at city bars? Tellt2@abpmail.com)