June 21, 2023
Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, who ruled from 1900 to 1938, partook of an unconventional sport called skull pegging. The sport resembled polo, since players rode on horseback. But, instead of hitting balls with mallets, players plunged or “pegged” spears into half-buried skulls — and the player to peg the most skulls won. Over time, the cavalry game became the less crude tent pegging, where players used lances to uproot apparatuses called tent pegs — no heads necessary.
Once, the Maharaja invited the Irish tent pegging team, the Viceroy’s Pride, to Patiala for a match. The Irish lost terribly, owing to unexpected hangovers from drinking with the Maharaja the night before. When questioned, the 6’ 5” ruler, who also enjoyed tall drinks, proclaimed, “Yes, in Patiala, our pegs are larger.” And so, the Patiala peg — meaning a whiskey peg poured from the bottom of a glass to a height between one’s index and ring fingers — was born. Across the country, and in parts of the U.K., the Patiala peg would become the default for many whiskey lovers, containing at least twice the volume of a regular peg.
The British may have left, but India’s love for whiskey endures. This year, India overtook France as the world’s largest importer and consumer of the spirit by volume. The country’s consumption of the drink increased by over 200% in the past decade — partly due to India’s love of Scottish brands such as Johnnie Walker or Glenlivet, but also due to a growing appreciation of homegrown whiskeys. So how did India — a country that doesn’t have a national liquor of its own — beat the Scottish at their own game when it comes to throwing back a peg — or four?