On a warm evening, i found myself at Quaff, a brewpub in Cybercity, Gurugram, wanting to try out the latest concoction they had to offer. The market for craft beer in India was supposedly going through an explosion in terms of expansion, but one certainly wouldn’t realise it living in Gurugram. Over a hundred brewpubs had sprung across India’s metropolitan cities in the short span of a decade. Gurugram, one of India’s biggest beer drinking cities, no doubt because of its urban-youth culture, was stuck shuffling between the usual four styles of beer.
Over the rising din of chatter, I overheard someone nearby exclaim “If you like Saison, you’re a member of the tribe.” Saisons (French for seasons) are brewed for the summer, when the winters thaw out. They are fruity, spicy, and low on bitterness—perfect to refresh oneself on a humid day. Ekta is one such brewery that hits the complex notes of the Belgian mixed grain bill. Named because the Sanskrit word for ‘unity’ was essentially the same in Hindi and Kannada, Ekta beers are strongly rooted in its Indian identity—and have no plans of losing it any time soon. The Hibiscus Saison available at Quaff was made as a collaboration between Quaff, and Ishan Grover (RJ Brewing Solutions), assisted by beer evangelist John Eapen. Their other brew, Pepper and Clove Saison is available at Lagom. These flavours were chosen because of the Hibiscus’ religious significance and to represent the people of the farms in India. Pepper and cloves are also common spices that are commonly used in the North and the South, crossing the boundaries of region and ethnicity.
On the other end of the spectrum is Witlinger and its founder’s goal to become a segment leader in the Indian beer market. India’s first bottled craft beer was launched in early 2016 and offered two grained variants: Witlinger Wheat Ale and Witlinger Lager. The style is that of Belgian wheat beer, incorporating the flavours commonly associated with summer to correct the limited choices the Indian consumer had when it came to craft beer. Witlinger, partially filtered, with orange zest and spices, is easy to wet one’s throat.
Maharashtra has been helming the craft beer scene for a few years now. Gateway Brewery, launched in 2011, offers a variety of craft beers across multiple brewpubs and restaurants in Mumbai. Their beers carry quirky names—perhaps a reflection of Gateway’s attempt to offer its consumers a global and diverse experience. “As Vienna As It Gets” is an interpretation of the toasty malt lager traditionally brewed in Vienna. “Monk’s Potion” is made with Belgian yeast, combining the flavours of roasted Indian coriander seeds and tea to offer a citrusy flavour to its drinker.
Bira 91, is another first. Launched in February of 2015, it offers four beers: Bira 91 White, Bira 91 Strong, Bira 91 The IPA and finally the first of its kind: a low-calorie beer called Bira 91 Light which only has 90 calories in a 330 ml bottle. At the same time, Bira 91 Strong is a “High Intensity Wheat Beer” that is made with fermented ale that integrates high honey and caramel notes with a low bitterness. Bira 91 became an instant hit among the urban crowd with its low cost. Ironically, the most surprising Bira 91 offering is the Indian Pale Ale. IPAs can be traced back to the 18th century. Although it’s gained increasing popularity all over the world, the IPA hasn’t caught on in the Indian market yet. The Indian palette is used to pleasant tones that are easier to drink whereas Bira 91—The IPA is an onslaught of strong tastes. With a high alcohol content, this IPA combines a flurry of bitter hops such as cascade, magnum, and brewer’s gold, but starts off as a mildly sweet roll of states, only to finish with a burst of spice. It’s time we tamed the Indian palette!