December is the Month To Go Duty Free

Popular culture shows that booze can shorten any distance, even if it is galactic.  
Great Gatsby

Growing up in the ’80s, it was inevitable that Amitabh Bachchan sometimes came to be my life’s protagonist. His Amar Akbar Anthony, in particular, was an afternoon favourite. The bonhomie that long-lost brothers discover is of course special, but, for me, it was Bachchan’s clumsy, irreverent Anthony who became a lodestar. In a scene that has now become iconic, Anthony talks to himself while staring into a mirror. He has been in a fight. He is, quite clearly, drunk. Hearing Bachchan chastise himself for having one too many, I’d laugh uncontrollably. Alcohol, I learnt quickly, can make you funny. There was something endearing about Bachchan’s silliness—he bandaged the mirror instead of his face—and for a while at least, he seemed to have forgotten his pain. Used to travelling on my own, I often remember Anthony when ordering a drink. A spoonful of whisky does help the loneliness go down.

The kindness of strangers, I have found, betters travel. The trouble with gratitude, however, is that it is a hard sentiment to convey. Buying my benefactors a drink or two has always helped ease my conscience. Tipsiness, on occasion, brings down their guard and affords a familiarity that can lay the foundation for a more lasting friendship. Steven Spielberg knew this. Much like travellers, aliens too are thirsty for a connection. When E.T. raids Elliot’s fridge, he instinctively reaches for the beer. Even though he is sat in school, Elliot psychically shares his friend’s high. The distance booze shortens can be galactic too.

As a team, we here at National Geographic Traveller India like to celebrate our achievements and anniversaries with a toast. We do not, it must be said, emulate the debauched advertising executives of Mad Men in any way. We only bring out the corkscrew when our day is done, and only when the occasion demands it. The end of the year, we believe, is one such prompt. Our parties may not be as raucous as Jay Gatsby’s, but we do like our bit of bubbly. Since we are diligent journalists who always go back to the source, we went to France to trace the roots of champagne. In Scotland, we were told secrets about the malt, and in Switzerland we saw how absinthe resurrected itself. The wine trails we went on stretched from Nashik and took us to France. Pisco, we felt, was surely worth visiting Peru for.

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, we discovered ten you must visit. Closer home, we compiled a list of dive bars that must be visited by those who love character and characters too. We also listed the spirit souvenirs you should bring back because this time, you see, we are having ours stirred.

Disclaimer: We were careful. We ensured we were able to sit up straight in our office chairs when filing.

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    Shreevatsa Nevatia never travels without his headphones, coloured pens and a book. He is particularly fond of cities, the Middle East, and the conversations he has along the way. He works as the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India.

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