Thimphu Tuesday Cocktails

Posted on November 18, 2018

Bhutan has so many great and unique distinctions, including a military that makes all the booze. Their slogan could be Make Booze, Not War. The alcohol made by the army is very good and surprisingly varied. Five types of whiskey, vodka, rum, fruit based spirits, and now even wine, which I understand it actually imported from South Africa and only bottled in Bhutan, but this development has made decent wine available for reasonable cost for the first time. Additionally there are a few breweries making beer, and many Bhutanese make a grain based local sake like beverage at home, called ara. So while there is plenty of alcohol to drink in Bhutan, it’s most always drunk unmixed. And one of my favorite ways to have a drink is mixed, as in a cocktail.


As Bhutan has been so good to me, I thought I would introduce my Bhutanese friends to cocktails. And what better day to do this than Tuesdays, which is Dry Day in Bhutan, no alcohol legally sold in bars, shops or restaurants. Most bars close Tuesday, the few that stay open offer mock tails (which is just another name for expensive fruit juice). Some restaurants especially if they know their patrons will sell beer, and serve it in a coffee mug (which ought to be enough of a clue to any authorities looking to bust scofflaws).


John’s Tuesday Cocktail Party debuted in my apartment in Thimphu, Bhutan this past July. I have great friends in Bhutan and don't need to invite them to my apartment and ply them with booze for a popularity boost. All ten friends I invited to the first cocktail party attended. We drank sangria (yes I know, not technically a cocktail, but a fortified wine drink, but hey, none of them had ever tasted sangria and no one complained about the technicality). I also decided to pose a question to all comers, as not all knew each other: What happened today that made you grateful? And the answer cannot be that you got invited here. This when I learned how philosophical my friends can be, as many waxed on about life and its goodness and how what made them grateful was doing something for someone else. I had to cut some of the orators short, though their answers were all inspiring, my aim was for conversational ice breakers, not sermons. Bhutanese always surprise me in the best possible manner.


We also had food, mostly take out momos (dumplings, the fast food of Bhutan, though always freshly made from numerous small restaurants and momo stands). And the simple sort of snack food one can buy at one of the 3 supermarkets in Bhutan, (so small that were they in the USA they’d simply be called convenience stores).  We drank, we talked, we laughed, we sang (well I did not sing, I have terrible voice, though some of my friends have great voices). By the end of the evening, my apartment was littered with opened and empty wine bottles (we had to make more sangria) and the detritus of a successful party.  A few asked anxiously, “this was so much fun, you are going to do this again next week, right?”


Pictures appeared on Face Book, and this prompted a flurry of people to ask if they might be included if a repeat cocktail party was in the plans. I’d already begun to think about what to serve and what to ask next week.


Next week we drank pina coladas, not my favorite cocktail, but the booze and ingredients readily available (and hey, I am educating palates here). Sweet like candy proclaimed many, which did nothing to stop anyone from drinking. Question: Tell us something no one knows about you? Funniest answer: I have only 2 pairs of underwear. Most poignant answer: I never told my dad I loved him. Questions to me at end of evening from friends: We are doing this next week, right?


For the next party borrowed a friend’s card for the duty free shop in Thimphu. Imported booze here, and I wanted to make margaritas (the army does not make tequila, due to lack of ingredients and not ingenuity I’m sure). Ah, but there was no triple sec or cointreau of grand marnier in the entire country. Though I spied a bottle of Japanese yuzu liquor (a Japanese citrus fruit) and this made the perfect substitute. Margaritas were a big hit and I had my friends (now about 15) chanting “Viva Mexico.” More Face Book photos the next day, prompted more requests for the next cocktail party.


My landlords, the owners of Thimphu’s hippest café, Ambient Café were very good-natured about loaning me vessels for the cocktails, platters for the food, ice to keep the drinks chilled. And I’d bring them down glasses of cocktails periodically, as they watched the stream of people troop us the stairs to my apartment. How many attendees they’d ask the next day, it looked like half of Thimphu was in your apartment. It seemed to them that there were many more guest than actually attended, but I think this just the movement up and down the stairs made the amount seem larger.


Week by week I grew more ambitious with drinks and food, and began cooking desserts, making salads and upon discovering rice paper wrappers in one supermarket, added Vietnamese spring rolls to my repertoire.  Early arrivals got to help wrap the spring rolls (and got a head start on cocktails). Tuesday is our new favorite day I heard again and again.


When I had foreign guests accompany me to Bhutan, I’d also arrange for them to join my friends for our cocktail parties. Perhaps the biggest unexpected surprise to Bhutan is the Bhutanese themselves, and having my foreign guests meet my local friends was a blast for everyone.


I’m now away from Bhutan for several months, though eagerly awaiting my return and the resumption of Tuesday Night Cocktails.