The liberated era of postcolonial India and Pakistan was flamboyant yet regal and surprisingly booze-centric in the shared region of Punjab, with a heavy emphasis on gin in the summer and whisky in the winter. As the largest whisky market in the world, the region still has a robust drinking culture, and one of the most cherished traditions is the ‘Patiala Peg.’
The Patiala Peg is an integral part of urban- and rural-drinking vocabulary in Punjab, and is a measure of whisky defined by the distance between the index and little finger when they are held parallel against a glass. It is roughly equivalent to 120 ml.
According to Captain Amarinder Singh: The People’s Maharaja, the famous moniker, Patiala Peg, was coined by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, in southeast Punjab, who ruled the princely state from 1900 to 1938.
Legend has it that the Maharaja had a fierce polo team which consisted of fearsome warriors and was undefeated under his reign. In the early 1900s, they invited the British team for a friendly match of tent-pegging. Tent-pegging is a cavalry sport traced back to ancient origins when men on horseback would lance the pegs of the enemy camp’s tents to trap the soldier’s inside. It evolved to an event where riders charge across a straight course and use a lance to pick up pegs stuck in the ground.
The evening before the match, the Patalia team entertained the ‘Viceroy’s Pride,’ all burly Irish men. Despite their outstanding record and brute strength, the home team feared the wrath of the Maharaja if they lost. They hatched a conspiracy to pour the visitors double measures of whisky and partied late into the evening.
While the ‘Viceroy’s Pride’ was downing their booze, the home team replaced the pegs used for the tent pegging competition with smaller ones for the visitors and larger for themselves, putting them at an advantage with easier targets. Groggy and dragging the next morning, the Brits lost.