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.


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