Thursday, July 6

India’s Colonial Hangover




During two fascinating weeks in India, including a tour of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a bike ride through the backstreets of Old Delhi and some high-altitude hiking in Ladakh, I discovered this terrible fact: it’s impossible to buy an India Pale Ale in many parts of India.
While IPAs are now being brewed in almost every corner of the globe – from Denver to Dunedin – India remains wedded to Kingfisher lager, the ubiquitous thirst-quencher of the sub-continent. Despite my earnest entreaties, the most interesting beer I could find was Stella Artois, on tap at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi; the hotel’s splendid 1911 Bar, complete with its royal crest, is not to be missed.
At the time of Partition in 1947 there were around 25 breweries in India, some dating back over 100 years, making a variety of ales, stouts and ‘sparkling beers’. The Himalayas alone supported half a dozen breweries, mostly supplying the old hill stations like Shimla and Darjeeling.
In its heyday India Pale Ale, originally created to survive the long sea voyage from Britain, was consumed in vast quantities by the soldiers of the Raj – and yet by the 1960s had all but disappeared from India, along with so many small, regional breweries which either closed down or were absorbed by the two majors: Mohan Meakin and United Breweries, makers of the top-selling Kingfisher.
“Did the British take all the tasty beer with them when they left?” asked one exasperated columnist recently. Could it be possible that in this tech-savvy, forward-looking country that is keen to embrace every new trend from the West – including the ‘selfie’ – has yet to discover craft beer? I’m told Delhi’s licensing regulations make it impossible for new brewers to set up shop in the capital, but a report in India Today suggests that craft beer is thriving elsewhere, namely in Mumbai, Gurugram, Pune and Bengaluru (Bangalore) – the southern city already has 30 microbreweries, with another 20 slated to open by 2019.
Many observers such as Greg Koch, CEO of Stone Brewing Co in the United States, see a bright future for craft beer in India – a country with a young, cashed up and adventurous middle class.
“It is not just about beer but about a cultural shift,” he says “I see amazing potential.”
India’s first brewpub, The Corinthians, opened in Pune in 2009 after a long battle with local authorities to relax the state’s policies on brewing. Both Gurugram and Bengaluru followed suit, with Mumbai’s first microbrewery, The Barking Deer, opening its doors October 2013.
Other new entrants include Toit, Big Brewsky, Degree Bauhaus, Windmills Craftworks, Gateway Brewing, Doolally, White Owl and Independence Brewing (pictured top).
Apart from making traditional IPAs, Hefeweizens and Stouts Indian craft brewers are also concocting some distinctly exotic blends, such as Basmati Blonde, Mango Wheat Ale and Coffee & Bacon Beer.
The Indian craft beer revolution is very much fuelled by the proliferation of brewpubs and specialist bars.
Indeed, Vikram Achanta, CEO of drinks training firm Tulleeho, says that based on current growth trends India could outstrip both the United States and Europe in the production of craft beer within a decade.
“In a relatively short space of 10 years, we now have 100 brewpubs across India, with the newer ones coming up in Kolkata, Hyderabad, Chandigarh and Goa,” he says.
“But what I am most looking forward to is [the arrival of] brewpubs in my home state of Delhi, a state which still is a wasteland for them.”

Mark Chipperfield travelled to India as a guest of specialist travel operator Abercrombie & Kent.


Monday, May 29

The Rum Rebellion








Artisanal. Bespoke. Hand crafted. When launching a new drinks brand onto today’s marketplace these three terms need to be artfully littered through the promotional bumf. Millennials of the smashed avocado munching variety demand a heavy whiff of “authenticity” with their evening tipple – whether that’s the latest small batch gin from a decaying inner-city slum or an unfiltered cider from a remote Tasmanian farmhouse.
So how does a mainstream drinks brand like Bundaberg Rum muscle its way onto shelves already groaning with bespoke, often obscure, bottles of high-priced rums from the Caribbean, Central and South America and the United States?
This is exactly the question I asked Duncan Littler, brand manager at the Bundaberg Distilling Company, when we met up at the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) in Sydney earlier this month – the new $8.5 million Bundaberg Visitor Centre in Queensland attracts 60,000 people a year, making it the city’s biggest tourist attraction.
“About six years ago we started looking into what it would take for Bundaberg to make rums that would rival the best in the world,” he said. “And the good news is that we are now doing that.”
For much of its 129-year history Bundaberg has made only one type of dark rum, Bundaberg Original, which has strong following among die-hard Bundy drinkers, but limited appeal to mixologists and globe trotting hipsters.
The company began developing a range of premium, barrel-aged rums which might appeal to those with a more discerning palate. The results have been impressive – Bundaberg rums have shone at many international drinks competitions, including the World Drinks Awards in London.
“We’ve won a number of major awards,” said Duncan. “Most recently we picked up an award for the World’s Best Dark Rum for our Solera release – last year we won World’s Best Dark Rum, World’s Best Gold Rum and World’s Best Rum.”
As part of its branding upgrade, Bundaberg opened a brand new visitor centre in 2016 – the impressive facility houses a museum, a retail outlet, tasting room and ‘Blendatorium’ where rum lovers can create their own signature blend – the Blend Your Own experience is world first for rum.
“Under the guidance of our expert blending guides you are given five rums which have been matured in port, sherry, bourbon, Scotch and heavily charred American oak barrels. None of these can’t be purchased by the public,” according to Duncan.
“We teach you about these special rums and the art of blending. Then you create your own special blend. Your blend is then bottled, capped and labeled and the formula is stored for future reference. Additional bottles of this unique blend will then be shipped to your house on request.”
The Blend Your Own Rum Experience is just one of several tours available at the Bundaberg Visitor Centre, but at $250 per person this two-and-half hour immersive rum experience represents pretty good value. Apart from two bottles of your own personalized rum to take home, the tariff includes a free rum tasting and a tour of the museum.
“You’ll also get to see the Great Wall of Bundy,” says Duncan. “We have the world’s biggest collection of Bundy, with over 1000 unique bottles. It’s pretty impressive.”


Bundaberg Rum Visitor Centre, Hills Street, Bundaberg, Queensland 4670. Opens Monday to Friday 10am-5pm. www.bundabergrum.com.au






Tuesday, April 11

Rebujitos, Custard Tarts and Gondolas






I can go anywhere on the planet and find a decent glass of beer. Afterall, I am a beer blogger. My craft beer odyssey has taken me from the wilds of Patagonia to the torrid streets of Jakarta. I even found a microbrewery on Easter Island (perhaps that is why the ancient Moai statues were abandoned).

But after four days in Macau I was looking like a man on a hopeless mission. Sure, the pleasure palaces of this former Portuguese enclave (now a Special Administrative Region within the People’s Republic of China) serve Stella Artois by the gallon – the Chinese middle classes seem to love the stuff. And those with a taste for Asahi Super Dry and Tsingtao lager will find ample supplies – each glass chilled to near freezing point.
However, I was looking for something edgy, boutique and hoppy. All seemed lost until I stumbled on The Old Taipa Tavern, an open-sided pub in the backstreets of Taipa – a quaint enclave of alleyways and tiny Macanese houses just across the bridge from the Macau Peninsula. To coincide with the Rugby 7s being played in nearby Hong Kong, the cheerful Taverna was serving draught Little Creatures – Fremantle’s world-famous pale ale – in traditional Schooner and Middy glasses; despite the heat there were just three people, all European, at the polished bar.
Almost two decades after Macau’s handover to Beijing the compact territory (which includes the peninsula and a smaller offshore island) retains much of its Portuguese heritage – in fact many of the old colonial streets and alleyways in Taipa and nearby Coloane are coming back to life. Little coffee shops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and artisan food outlets are springing up everywhere. Portuguese and Macanese cuisine is also enjoying a resurgence. Street food snacks like egg tarts and pork chop buns remain wildly popular among locals and mainlanders alike, while many family-owned restaurants serve authentic rustic Portuguese fare – clams cooked in white wine, butter, coriander and oodles of garlic are one of my favourites, alongside is spicy African chicken and grilled Portuguese sausage, plus some toothsome cheeses from the motherland.
Although the Chinese are a nation of tea and beer drinkers, wine still rules the waves in Macao. Our four-day visit began with chilled glasses of Rebujito (a refreshing cocktail of dry sherry and soda water with a sprig of mint) at Antonio’s – a multi-award winning restaurant in the heart of Taipa old town. Even the smallest eatery, such as the brilliant Restaurant Espaco Lisboa in picturesque Coloane Village, stocks a dazzling range of wines -- from the unctuous and refreshing Alvarinho (a popular white wine) to those distinctively soft and earthy reds from the Douro.
Given this honourable legacy – the Portuguese claim to have educated the Chinese wine palate over the past 300 years – it’s easy to relegate beer to the status as a pleasant midday Macau tipple. But there is one place where craft beer is making a triumphant stand: Marks & Spencer’s department store in Cotai Central. The store stocks an impressive range of hand-made beers from Europe, North America and the British Isles. Thanks to its “buy two get one free offer” I was able to retreat to my hotel room with a selection of ales from Cornwall, Yorkshire and Staffordshire – just part of the store’s current British Beer and Cider promotion. For the homesick UK expat M&S also sells authentic English crisps and wine gums. Despite such brave efforts I suspect that it will be some time before the happy Chinese holidaymakers taking a gondola ride at the Venetian Macau (oh, there’s even a half-size replica of the Eiffel Tower nearby) will be queuing to taste a Cornish IPA or Belgian farmhouse ale any time soon. But who knows? In Macau, everything is possible.

Mark Chipperfield travelled to Macau as a guest of the Macau Government Tourism Office (www.visitmacao.com.au) and Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com). For imported craft beer visit Marks & Spencer, Shop 2116B, Second Floor, Shoppes At Cotai Central, Macau.












Tuesday, December 20

The Alfa Romeo Of Craft Beers





I once considered the French the most enigmatic, creative and poetic European race, but now believe that mantle should be transferred to the people of Italy. A few days ago a sample of LABI beers arrived on my doorstep and I have been completely mesmerized ever since – by the flamboyance the beers themselves and their mysterious origins. All I can tell you is that these distinctively robust and idiosyncratic beers – the range includes a fragrant lager (la Bionda), a Christmassy Belgian ale (la Rossa), an aromatic India Pale Ale (la Ambrata), a complex wheat beer (la Bianca) and a super sexy Imperial Stout (la Nera) – come from a little brewery in the Veneto region of northern of Italy. The company was apparently launched by three friends – Paolo, Stefano and (head brewer) Fabio – who wanted to create some distinctively Italian craft beers that could accompany some of their favourite regional dishes. The company website, although packed with romantic phrases about art, passion and destiny, is remarkably short on detail. I’m still not sure when the brewery was launched or even what the name LABI stands for, but I can tell you that these excellent handcrafted beers are now available in Australia thanks to importer Torino Food Service. Its account manager Martin Nickson tells me that several Sydney restaurants including Pendolino, Lot. 1, Kipling’s Garage Bar (Turramurra) and La Fiamma Pizzeria (Ettalong Beach) are now serving these beautifully handcrafted beers. They are also being sold at a few independent retailers such as Amatos Liquor Mart in Leichhardt and Tom’s Cellars (West Pymble and North Turramurra). Prices for the handsome 750ml bottlers range from $16 to $18, but no one who tastes these beers will quibble about their cost. I’d rather a single bottle of LABI than an entire case of Peroni. The sheer audacity of these beers is impressive. I’d venture to say that la Bionda has rewritten the textbook on lagers – a true Italian stallion, but complex, multi-layered and herbaceous. But in truth, it’s hard to find fault with any of these beers, although with Christmas on the horizon I’d suggest a couple of bottles of la Nera for the family dinner table. Wickedly rich, with hints of liquorice and coffee, this black beauty is the perfect accompaniment to your Christmas pud or mince pies. Italian craft beers have truly arrived – and in style.

For a full list of stockists contact Martin Nickson on
0413 362 744 or email him on martin@torino.com.au

To learn more about the beers visit http://labibeer.com

Monday, November 28

London Landmark Reopens


Often billed as the UK's original gastro-pub The Engineer in Primrose Hill, North London, has re-opened after an extensive make-over. The once knock-about corner pub, popular with the local film and TV fraternity and named after the Victorian maestro Brunel, has emerged with plenty of glossy interiors, but minus the grit and personality which made it so popular throughout the 80s and 90s. As a resident of Gloucester Avenue, The Engineer was much more than a local -- it was a meeting place for the full panoply of life in NW1, from high to low. The legendary Sunday lunches were a particular highlight. Things turned sour in 2011 when the landlords, Mitchells & Butlers, chose not to renew the lease of long-term managers Tamsin Olivier and and Abigail Osborne. A rally to save the pub was attended by a Who's Who of the British entertainment world, including the actor Robert Powell. Despite M & B's assurances that The Engineer would not be absorbed into one of its pub chains, that's exactly what seems to have happened. A glowing press release describes the new-look interiors ("muted blue tones and pretty flowered walls"), extensive list of craft beers, "curated" wine list and classic cocktails.The food offering has also been dumbed down to include burgers, fish and chips and "tapas-style plates". But with so many pubs closing in the UK at the moment, perhaps we should be grateful that The Engineer has survived into the 21st Century. According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) 1,444 pubs closed in the UK in 2015 – 500 in London alone. Anyone who is prepared to save a pub, even with  mint arancini balls and overpriced pinot grigio, should be applauded. So I will reserve judgement on the new-look Engineer until I see it for myself. Give me Robert Powell and a couple of pints of London Pride and I'll be happy.

The Engineer, 65 Gloucester Avenue, London, NW1 8JH. Phone: 020 7483 1890; www.theengineerprimrosehill.co.uk


Friday, November 18

Chasing Blondes, Mad Abbots and Mother Goose in Port Macquarie






Port Macquarie, on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, is Australia's third oldest penal settlement. Does this perhaps explain why it has such a thirst for strong ale? As a guest of the recent Tastings on Hastings food festival I was able to explore the region's burgeoning craft beer scene, which is spearheaded by Black Duck Brewing and the Little Brewing Company – two operations which embrace quite different, almost contradictory, brewing philosophies. Best known for its Wicked Elf range, Little Brewing makes a range American, Czech, Belgian, German and British style beers. Despite the wacky labels, the beers here are authentic, delicate and beautifully structured. The flavours may be bold, but head brewer Warwick Little, who once studied winemaking, never strays too far from the original recipe. "We brew beers without compromise, yet fervently true to style,” he says. Look out for Wicked Elf Kolsch which is triumph of restraint and yet at 4.9%ABV still packs a meaty punch. Fans of Belgian-style beers will enjoy the Mad Abbot Tripel (9.5%ABV), a smooth, fruity and complex ale which will augment any Christmas Day table. The spic and span brewery, which opened in 2007, will soon open a dedicated tasting deck. Mad Abbot and Wicked Elf beers are available at Dan Murphy’s and BWS stores.

Across town the Black Duck Brewery, which opened its doors four years ago, makes beers which are more tailored to local tastes and Port Macquarie’s summery climate. “People want a cold fizzy beer that doesn’t beat them up too much,” says co-founder and head brewer Al Owen. “The paler beers, like Beach House Blonde and Golden Goose, are always easier to sell. Our Aussie lager walks out the door.” Unlike the Little Brewing Company, Black Duck Brewing relies entirely on local distribution – and the occasional guest tap at one of the city’s pubs. “It’s grown really strongly over the last couple of years,” he says. “We try to work as closely as we can with the local businesses – most of the pubs will give us a spare tap if they can. The local [brewery] reps are really good to us.” The brewery also serves pizza and ploughman’s platters. The tasting paddles ($5) are excellent value. Owen, a former civil engineer, discovered the world of craft beer during a trip to the UK in 2005. Luckily, he found a complete brewing kit lying in storage in nearby Wauchope. ”It was purely opportunistic,” he says. Plans are already underway to substantially expand the brewery’ modest 50,000 litre a year capacity and also hopes to develop its boutique gin-making operation. “People keep buying it, so I keep making it,” says Owen.

So anyone heading north over the long NSW summer holidays should allocate some time to explore Port Macquarie’s small, but energetic craft beer scene. And keep your eyes peeled for self-styled gypsy brewer MooreBeer, which is hoping to establish a permanent base in the city soon.


Mark Chipperfield travelled to Port Macquarie as a guest of Port Macquarie-Hastings Council (www.portmacquarieinfo.com.au) and Destination NSW (www.visitnsw.com.au).