Thursday, 19 May 2011

India's 1st ever Beer Olympics - Or how Khandala won big at a sporting event

You can view a condensed version of this story here:

I’m sitting in a shared Scorpio heading from Mumbai to Pune, at 8.00 AM on a Sunday, with 5 people my age calling themselves the Khandala Beer Drinkers Association (KBA). I’m accompanying them on their trip to India’s first ever Beer Olympics, being held at the Doolally Beers micro brewery and Corinthians Club on the outskirts of Pune.

This tournament is being conducted by Doolally Beers, who are no stranger to organising events. They conducted the first ever Mumbai Oktoberfest in 2010, which in turn inspired them to do something even bigger. People meet up with friends and drink on weekends anyway, so why not get them all together at the brewery on a Sunday for some fun, and an opportunity to try our a few games, win some beer, and be a beer athlete? And that’s how the Doolally Beer Olympics came about.

Back in the car, the KBA guys double check to see that they’re all carrying requisite age proofs. (permission from Mommy probably won’t be good enough for the Doolally guys manning registration) and pour through lists of jumbled words, last minute preparations for one of the 5 beer games at the event. The team consists of Melvin D’Souza, Nishta Sharma, brothers Ryan and Neil Valles, and Edgar D’Souza.

Veteran beer guzzler Melvin heard about the Olympics first, and recruited the rest of the team, looking at his friends’ aptitude and availability, finally bringing together old friends of his from days when they used to help organise youth camps at Khandala. They all have a special connection with Khandala; fond memories of the place. It’s like their backyard, a second home, a home away from home. And then there’s the beer. It’s the nectar of the Gods for these guys. And they don’t scrimp on it. They’ve been drinking the liquid sunshine all through their camp days. In Khandala. At the edge of valleys and under roaring waterfalls. Over the last decade. These are tough simple cheerful people, with nothing to prove, happy to take part in an event that lets them be who they are. This team exists for an ideal that is the combined joy of beer and Khandala. You could say they’ve been practicing for this event for the last 15 years; they just didn’t know it.

They wonder what I – a whisky drinker – am doing travelling to a beer competition. I can’t even stomach the stuff. I tell them I’m covering the event, and tell them I’d like to shadow them through the day, like embedded journalists in the Iraq war. Neil tells me that the Iraq war could probably have been avoided if they had just held a beer fest instead. These guys love their beer.

We arrive at the Doolally brew house around 11, after catching connecting rickshaws from Pune station, and are one of the first teams to register. The Corinthians club is huge, and beautiful, if not a little weird design-wise. The brew house looks inviting, with an indoor pub and outdoor seating, and Tresha, on the organising committee, takes the team through the registration process. Each team member is given a green T-shirt with one of the 5 Beer Olympic events emblazoned on the back. Not that KBA need them. They’re the only team present with their own team T-shirts. Black ones. With team logos. Printed just a few days earlier. They stand out. They get inquiries from the other teams.

The eliminations begin. Each team needs to compete in all 5 events before qualifying for the quarterfinals. KBA tries Beer Pong first. In Beer Pong, 2 teams play off against each other, 2 members from each team standing at opposite ends of a long narrow table, with cups of beer at each end, taking turns to throw a ping pong ball into one of the cups at the opponent’s end. If the ball misses, the opponent team gets to try the same thing. If the ball goes into a cup, the opponent team member has to drink the contents of that cup. The team that gets a ball into the most cups at the end of 5 minutes wins.

Neil and Ryan participate, and win their initial elimination, gaining 3 points in the process. They move on to Scrabulous, administered by Kenneth Lobo from Bombay Elektrik Projekt (BEP), a Mumbai based organisation that conducts niche events with an underground vibe, like poetry slams, stand-up comedy nights, short films screenings, etc. The Doolally organising committee is merely 8 people strong (including their brewmaster), so they’ve asked the BEP to help them out with fine tuning and administration of the games.

In Scrabulous, a team member solves a jumbled word made up of scrambled scrabble tiles, before chugging a cup of beer, and the next 2 members have to do the same. Teams play for the best time. Nishta, Melvin and Neil take this one, doing it in 28 seconds; an excellent time, but Nishta gets some beer up her nose. The team needs a break, and it’s lunchtime. We go to a little restaurant nearby. I can afford to pig out a little more than the others, since I’m not drinking.

So far so good. That’s 2 games down, and KBA look pretty strong.

We return to find the venue even more crowded. There are all sorts of people here. Participants. Serious participants. People just looking to have a bit of fun. Supporters. Tourists. Curious observers. Students. IT professionals. Lawyers. Entrepreneurs. And they’re all drinking. Everyone around me at the tournament is drinking beer like the world’s going to end tomorrow, and I’ll I’ve had is a cup of cider. Energy levels have gone up. People are excited. Competitive. But well behaved. Everyone seems to be getting the spirit of the games. And Doolally have roped in the ‘Tossed Salad’ lifestyle website to keep the crowds busy with audience games.

KBA runs into the ‘A-team’ from Bombay, comprising common friends. We learn that a total of 30 teams have registered (12 from Mumbai), including an all girls team. We also learn that a group called ‘Tipsy Tipplers’ have beaten our Scrabulous score by 1 second. KBA attempts Beer Jenga next. The Beer legged relay hasn’t begun yet, and we figure that the Chugg Relay, which involves all 5 members drinking large amounts of beer, should probably be kept for last. This is good strategy.

Beer Jenga is somewhat similar to normal Jenga, but with 2 members from a team participating at a time, playing against the clock for the best time. Each team member downs a beer after each move, till they build up a certain number of layers. Melvin and Edgar participate, putting up a good time of 2.30, the second highest, we’re informed. A team called ‘Beer Freaks’ has the high score of 1.59. KBA takes another break to work off the alcohol, and then it’s the Beer Chugg Relay, one of the more popular Olympic games.

Each team member has to consume 500ml mug of beer before the next team member can do the same. Teams aim for the quickest time. I’ve been following the progress of some of the other teams here; Sudeip from BEP is the judge, and he tells me that the best time so far is by ‘Sober Panel of Drunk Punekars (SPDP)’ with 50 seconds. That’s an average of 10 seconds per person! KBA is unsure if they can match this, but they’re going to give it their best. They’ve done well in all their 3 games so far, and a decent score in the next 2 ones will mean a greater chance of reaching the quarter finals of more events, and a better overall score.  

The team does it in 1.30 minutes. Melvin and Edgar shine in this event by chugging their beers in 5 seconds each, setting a record of sorts. They’re minor celebrities, and the team hopes that this score is respectable enough to put them in the quarters.

The Beer legged race is next, and everyone gathers in the parking lot. Teams compete for best times. 4 members from each team take part, 2 to a side. One pair finishes their beers, races across the lot, and the second pair does the same. KBA is one of the first ones to compete, and does it in a respectable time. I like how well balanced this team is. While Ryan and Neil are excellent at running, Melvin and Edgar excel at chugging.

KBA has participated in all 5 events now, and waits for the other teams to complete their elimination rounds. A lot of what everyone seems to be doing is just waiting. The beer seems to be flowing non-stop. Everyone’s really happy, upbeat. No one cares about the IPL. It’s all about the here and now, having a good time with friends. I’m happy I’m here to observe and record.

It’s getting dark now, and the scores are put up. KBA have made it to the quarter finals of 3 out of 5 events – Pong, Jenga and Scrabulous. The team is overjoyed. They feel they’ve already got their money’s worth; everything from here on is just a bonus. KBA decides to play it relaxed but steady. No need to be too competitive. Take it seriously, but not too seriously, and have a good time too.

There’s a long wait for the quarters to begin, and a lot of teams drop out. Some people have work the next day, and need to get back to Mumbai earlier. KBA have already decided to stick it out. After what seems like an eternity of waiting for the organisers to get ready, the Beer Pong quarter finals begin. It’s KBA in a face off with ‘Tipsy Tipplers’. It proves to be a long difficult battle, with the Tipplers’ team mates trying their best to psyche out Ryan and Neil, and being in the lead for most of the game. However, the brothers manage to tie the game in the last few seconds, and the scores remain steady for an additional extra minute, further taking the game into sudden death, which seems to go on for a long time, neither team able to score. But the guys manage to persevere and get one in, moving into the semi finals. It’s been a helluva match, and the ‘Tipplers’ are good sports about it.

Meanwhile, Melvin and Edgar prepare to compete against the ‘Pune Expat Club’ (PEC) in their Jenga quarter-final. The Jenga rules have changed now, and there’s no time limit; instead 2 teams will play off against each other until the Jenga column gets upset. KBA manages to hold it together, until the excessive beer takes its toll on Melvin, making him queasy and forcing him to take a break. He does his best to continue, until becoming sick again and throwing in the towel. It’s a royal effort put in by Melvin, and even the PEC guys are left impressed. But that’s the end of this team’s Jenga run.

The Scrabulous quarters are up next. It’s now a play off rather than a time limit, and with 2 people per team instead of 3. The team that finishes first wins. KBA faces off against their arch rivals – the ‘Tipsy Tipplers’, who beat them by half a second. It’s a little disheartening; the guys really feel they could have taken this home, but their high scores keep them in the running for the overall tournament standings, and they’re still in the race for Pong.

The Beer Pong semi final has KBA playing against the older larger ‘Beer Pinaland’ team, and they brothers quickly gain the upper hand, winning with a clear margin within the stipulated time, putting the team in the finals. It’s almost too easy, and they can’t believe their good fortune.

The finals arrive after another long break. It’s 11.00 PM now. Many teams have been here for 12 hours, and this has turned into a kind of endurance, last man standing fest. It’s ‘Hangover 5’ vs. ‘Why SUD We Have All The Fun’ in the Scrabulous finals, with the latter winning. The Jenga finals end with ‘Indigo Nation’ defeating ‘Drunkards’.

KBA are told that they’ve won the bronze in Scrabulous overall, due to our high scores, which gives them some joy. And then comes the Beer Pong final. The opponents are ‘ZE Dominators’; they’ve been strong till now, and KBA’s only consolation is that their opponents are slightly drunk. Still, the Dominators lead right away, and maintain a lead throughout. The match comes down to the last minute, and then the last 10 seconds. It seems hopeless. Then it all happens so quickly. The opponents take their time with the ball, trying to let KBA have as little time with it, then throw, miss, the ball rolls off the table. 6 seconds. 5. KBA has the ball. Focus. 4. 3. They throw, score. With just 2 seconds to spare, they tie the game. The Dominators thought they had it. They’re not happy. Instead of overtime, the match goes into sudden death. First team to score wins. It’s a suspense situation. There’s a crowd all around the open air table. And then KBA scores. That’s it. They’ve won the gold. People are jumping in the air, screaming. This team has made a lot of fans.

The older veterans SPDP go on to win the Chugg Relay, engineering students Why SUD We Have All The Fun place first overall, and KBA places second overall in the competition, winning over 10K worth of beer cumulatively. It has been a team effort, and there’s a lot of big smiles on the way back. It doesn’t sink in fully yet, even as the team travels back to Pune station. It’s Neil’s birthday at midnight, and this couldn’t be a better gift. The ride back to Mumbai is tiring. The team has been up without rest and very little food for 24 hours, braving little sleep, cramped travel, intense heat, excessive alcohol, constant exercise, noisy crowds, and aggressive opponents. They came here with nothing to prove, to just have a good time, and are leaving with gold in an event they never thought they’d win, bronze in another, and silver overall. And they’re among the few sober souls standing that night. It’s a day that none of these 5 guys can ever forget.

And my guess is they’ll be back soon. They need to exhaust their beer vouchers within a year, after all. And there’s Oktoberfest in a few months. They’ll need to begin practice for that too. So we’re definitely going to see them again soon, in action.



Rohan Rehani said...


Melvin Dsouza said...

Man! I will never ever tire reading about this day.

Thankyou Danny Boy

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