Throughout history, there have been initiation ceremonies where boys would have to overcome difficult challenges and prove themselves as a man. Although western society has largely done away with this practice, I think I found a way to bring it back. I base this on my own personal experience during my first visit to Georgia and my encounter with a specific drink that made Russian vodka seem like water and Jack Daniel's like apple juice. It is called chacha (and no, it is not related to the dance).
Upon my arrival, I started hearing murmurs of this drink. Every foreigner I encountered had a similar story where they were having dinner with local Georgians when someone took out a bottle of this homemade liquid and encouraged everyone to drink and drink. Refusal was not an option and everyone took part together. Toasts were long and intricate, and with each shot, the foreigner gained more respect and admiration. It was as if it was an initiation process to the country and society. But although the stories seemed exciting, each person I spoke to gave me the same warning which was that words have yet to be invented to describe the pain of the hangovers. Nonetheless, I was intrigued.
Later on one evening, I went to a bar and decided to try it out for myself. I walked up to the bartender and order a shot of chacha, to which the he (clearly seeing that I was a foreigner) asked if I was serious. I said yes and, to my surprise, he pulled out a plastic soda bottle that had been refilled with a clear liquid and poured me a shot. Homemade and authentic, I thought as I took the glass. I walked over to a group of newfound friends from earlier in the night, did a toast, then knocked it back expecting a severe burn. To my surprise though, it actually went down fairly smooth, much easier than expected.
Lulled into a false sense of security, I ordered a couple more throughout the night without thinking too much of it. Granted, I's seen several bus and marshrutka drivers pound them back like it was water, so how bad could it be? Even going to bed later on, I still felt alright... but then I woke up the next morning.
My body felt like it had been hit by a truck and my ears were ringing as if some 80s hair metal band had been screaming into them throughout the night. I thought my then 24 year old body (this was back in the day) could handle it, but chacha in all its mighty power punished me dearly for my hubris. But if I was going to return to this country and not be 'that foreign guy that cant take his liquor', I realized something. I would need to adapt. So, over the following two years, I slowly incorporated chacha into my system, accepting all toasts when offered and stocking up with a couple water bottles full before before I'd leave for a while. I cannot say I've mastered it (perhaps no one can), but here are some of the things I've learned along the way.
- Always eat when drinking chacha (hot food, not cold)
- Do not drink right when you're served. Wait for someone to give a toast first. (Or else you'll have to drink twice)
- Refusing a toast is not an option. Prepare yourself accordingly.
- Do not chase down with beer. The two do not settle well together.
- Always opt for the homemade chacha. It's often much cheaper and sold in plastic water/soda bottles.
- Some chacha is clear and some is brown. They both have the same effect (at least they did for me)
However, with all that said, do I regret the several times I've had chacha? No. Here's why: for some strange reason, I've felt a sense of accomplishment every time I've taken down a shot of that mystery grape liquor. It feels like a mixture of being initiated into manhood alongside entering a new society. It's hard to put into words, so if you'd like to know better, I recommend you try for yourselves.