Origin and Popularity of Patiala Peg
By Dr Jaswant Singh Puri
Patiala Peg is still popular not only in Patiala but the whole of Punjab State and so many other states too besides its very prominence in other countries. It has come to signify more than a measure of whisky and a sign of masculinity in Punjab. Patiala Peg is around 120 ml which is normally two large drinks or four small drinks in colloquial terms. It is Patiala’s singular contribution when the intake of alcohol was much considerable in Indian States. It is still fashionable as four inches of neat whisky on the rocks gulped at one go. As such the name originates from the city of royal and princely state of Patiala which was well known and famous for the extravagant ways of its royalty and remarkable height of its Sikh soldiers. A related and popular measure of liquor in Punjab is the Greg Peg whose volume is roughly equivalent to 120 ml. The Greg Peg was first made by Greg Kennedy to outdo native Punjabi’s while drinking Scotch whisky.
There are several stories about the measure of Patiala Peg which revolve around Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh who reigned over the Princely State of
Patiala from 1900 until he left this world in 1938. Maharaja had a Polo team which was always victorious during his reign. Part of his army consisted of legendary warriors of Punjab whose favourite and fashionable pastime was skull pegging. The skulls of their foes were buried half way into the ground. They were expert enough to lift the skulls by pegging them with their spears while riding their horses and the horses were ‘inebriated with bhang’. The civilized version of game came to be known as ‘Tent Pegging’. The generous and large hearted Maharaja Bhupinder Singh rewarded them for their brilliant feats of such adventures but there was a dire retribution for the loser that made the Patiala Team famous for their well-acclaimed championship in ‘Tent-Pegging’. The Irish team arrived and then it was in the Patiala tradition to invite the ‘Viceroys Pride’ for a friendly engagement in the territory of Maharajas.
Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s hospitality was legendary and the Patiala Hospitality was at its acme during such shenanigans which brought immense laurels to the innumerable victories of the Patiala Polo Team. A special and an honourable aspect of the hospitality was the large and wholesome portion of the ‘best scotch’ to extend the visitors a warm welcome, the night prior to the tournament of Polo Match. It played a great role on their performance the next day.
Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had a great knowledge about wines. He possessed one of the best cellars in India and The Patiala cellar had a rich treasure of Napoleon brandy of rare vintage. Since his hospitality was unsurpassed, several hundreds of people were served every day. He himself was an indulgent host who enjoyed and entertained people from all walks of life. Mr. Geiger, his German conductor, provided a befitting music in the background to heighten the effect and magical influence of wine or whisky. There were such occasions also when ‘Shehnai Vaadan’ in lilting and heart touching rhythms would entrance the guests.
It is also found that Patiala Peg is a peg of whisky is which the amount is decided based on the height between the index and little fingers when these are held parallel to one another against the side of the glass. However, the very popular name ‘Patiala Peg’ revolves around Maharaja Bhupinder Singh who lived life King Size. Once he invited the Irish Team called Viceroy’s Pride for a friendly tournament of ‘Tent Pegging’. The Irish Team was already known to be fond of heavy drinking habit. So as to honour and welcome the team from the heart-felt love and excitement, there was a party night before. The Irish players were known to drink to full capacity and exhibit their best performance the next day. A lot of liquor was served to both the teams who enjoyed it to the best of their capacity. When they woke up the next day, the effect of liquor still persisted and could not play their best due to effect of heavy liquor consumption the previous night. Thus they lost the game. So, Patiala Team was the winner that became popular for their liquor intake consumption and its digestion too and the Patiala Peg became known for its strong effect of alcohol.
‘Patiala Peg’ has become fashionable in various parties and get-togethers in North India or even during excursions with friends. It is accompanied by a loud banter and an attempt to outshine or display bravado. Patiala pegs are only requested while drinking whisky. It is not generally asked for Vodka or other alcohols. Nitin Tiwari, Head Mixologist in Delhi’s ‘Ek Bar’ does agree with various theories about ‘Patiala Peg’ but he shares the one most credible one that pertains to the Irish Team called Viceroy’s Pride. When they lost the match due to heavy drinks, they approached the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh to complain about their drinks. The Maharaja in his rejoicing fervor replied, “Yes in Patiala, our pegs are large.”
Varun Sudhakar, Reserve Brand Ambassador for Diageo agrees with this story. However, he also comes out with a new one in this concern in Captain Amarinder Singh’s biography, presently Chief Minister of Punjab and the grandson of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh. He narrates that perhaps it was a cricket match against the Irish and not tent pegging. It is a well talked about story but the Polo Team Story is also much in vogue. It is also said that Maharaja Bhupinder Singh was much fond of arranging parties. The people gathered in the parties would just take one big peg instead of putting in liquor time and again. They used to sip it gradually all evening. So the name Patiala Peg originated. However, whatever be the origin of the term, it has found a niche in colloquial English. ‘Patiala Peg’ is a contribution that transports us back to the reign of Maharaja Bhupinder Singh and his luxurious and lavish life style.
There is one more story related to Patiala Peg as narrated by an eminent citizen of Patiala. Once the Maharaja Bhupinder Singh went on a tour to England.
There he visited a bar and asked for a drink. The attendant brough 30 ml. peg. The Maharaja was rejoiced to see it and called the attendant. He asked him to bring full bottle of the whisky so as to prepare his own peg with desired quantity. The Maharaja poured about 120 ml. and that is how Patiala Peg became famous. However, on the whole, Patiala Peg has a close connection with Maharaja Bhupinder Singh it is all very interesting.
Punjabi singer like Diljit Dosanjh has also sung Punjabi song ‘Patiala Peg’. It has also become known to the lovers of music. The song is also from the album titled ‘Patiala Peg’. Some other singers have also made their contribution. But it is all creditable to Maharaja Bhupinder Singh’s times when it had its origin and became popular all over. It became so famous that many beverage companies started to produce 120 ml. bottles for disposal use in Patiala after it gained popularity.
(About the writer -Dr. Jaswant Singh Puri, is Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa), Punjab Rattan Member, Dewan Family, Earstwhile Princely State of Patiala Social Activist. )
(The views expressed are personal)