Raise your glass to manavatty

Kochi native John Xavier has joined the ranks of Malayalis abroad crafting liquor brands with his beverage brand Manavatty, which offers nostalgia among the Malayali community.
Manavatty liquir bottle
Manavatty liquir bottle

KOCHI: "Oru manavatty edukatte.” Whether you were clinking glasses inside a thatched toddy shop, at a quiet lakeside gathering or at a family get-together, this phrase, seemingly unusual, was all too commonplace in Cochin during the early ’90s. It was a code, a colloquial usage for serving a bottle of naadan vaatt.

When John Xavier moved to the UK for higher studies in his 20s, he missed those special occasions at home when family elders made this elixir, those long drives with friends to Kumarakom to savour freshly brewed vaatt and toddy.

These cherished memories seemed so distant until he recently decided to rekindle the nostalgia with the Malayali community in the UK by launching his own beverage brand, Manavatty.

“The aim is to bring back the essence of naadan vaatt. To stay true to to its essence, we have employed traditional fermentation and distillation methods,” John tells TNIE over phone from North Hampton.

On the name, he says, “I have a series of memories associated with the term ‘Manavatty.’ Though it was prominently used for ‘vaattu chaarayam’ in Kochi, gradually, other spirits, too, fetched the name.” Likewise, John’s Manavatty brand serves vaatt, spiced rum, and the Indian pale ale beer. According to him, these variants have a special bond with Malayalis.

The traditional toddy-infused vaatt boasts 44% alcohol and evokes a sense of nostalgia. However, in the UK, it is not allowed to make one form of alcohol from another. “Our way around this is to mix sugarcane and coconut water. Once the latter gets fermented, the resulting liquid tastes similar to toddy,” John says.

The Indian Spiced Rum captures the exotic flavours of India with its blend of spices. Not just any spice, the rum with 40% alcohol is infused with Ayurvedic spices and herbs. John reveals that the drink is an ode to the spirits curated by the family elders on special occasions.

“In the Ernakulam region, especially during the night before the wedding, it was common for the elderly to open a bottle of a white drink made out of spices such as cardamom, clove, jaathi pathri, pacha maanga and dates. This is then mixed with rum. We have replicated this with our rum variant, using a clutch of curated Ayurvedic spices and herbs,” says John, who claims that the drink is the world’s first Ayurvedic spices-infused rum.

With 4.3% alcohol, Manavatty’s IPA beer is made traditionally with hops and barley. The brew is distinct for its higher yeast content and when opened, it pops like a champagne. “When it comes to Indian beer in UK, we don’t have many competitors,” he adds.

Manavatty has designed their beer for the cricket crowd in the UK. “Since the sport is celebrated with such high spirits, why not celebrate with something authentic,” says John.

Why Manavatty?

John’s passion for all things food and drink was one of the main reasons he persisted through countless trials and errors. Since childhood, he had been curious about what went into the things he consumed. With just one sip or bite, he could identify the ingredients. The habit extended to drinks as well. He was often intrigued by what contributed to the smoothness of alcohol and the quality of the drink.

“Though I had the idea of forming Manavatty since 2019, it took shape only this year, majorly because of the time that went into the research. It is carefully curated, and the handpicked ingredients promise no added colour or flavour,” says John.

The products of Manavatty have now struck a chord with the Malayali community in the UK. “Vaatt is an emerging drink in the UK. Since Keralites are deprived of this back home, Manavatty has caught the attention,” he adds.

Though the drinks waft a sense of nostalgia for many, John says the name has an altogether new meaning for foreigners. “The word Mana symbolises the inherent power of elemental forces found in nature, and Vatty represents the traditional fermentation and distillation process integral to creating these spirited beverages,” he says.

Keeping the traditions alive

John ventured into the culinary landscape of the UK with his restaurant ‘Thattukada.’ When its menu, featuring dishes like frog legs, vellayappam, beef curry, and kappa prepared in the Kottayam-Kochi style, gained popularity, he went on to establish the UK’s first toddy parlour, ‘Kallu Shaap.’ It quickly became a cultural landmark. His indulgence in the culinary world was fuelled by his travels to over 40 countries.

Each journey made him realise how easily we drift away from preserving our traditions. “The ventures I have started so far are driven by the single idea of returning to our roots and evoking a sense of nostalgia and pride in our heritage. During my travels, I noticed that each country proudly showcases its traditional clothes, local food, and drinks.

This made me wonder why we don’t place the same value on our own traditions. My goal is to spread awareness and preserve the innate treasures of Kerala,” says John. He has plans to introduce Manavatty’s acclaimed line of products to India in the near future, extending the essence of Kerala’s heritage to a broader audience.

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