If you’re looking to expand your beer vocabulary, you’re in luck. A surge in the number of home-grown craft beer brands has taken place in the last couple of years, with many new varieties – India Pale Ales, stouts, wheat beers and more – being brewed in places as diverse as Goa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Bengaluru, Pune and even Bhutan. These beers differ significantly in appearance and flavour from regular, mass-produced brands, and here is our pick of the ones available.
Mead, although not really a beer, deserves special mention. It is widely accepted as the oldest known alcoholic beverage. The oldest confirmed evidence of an alcoholic beverage comes from Jiahu in China, around 7000 BC; farmers were fermenting a drink from rice, grapes, fruit (hawthorn berries) and honey. Many other written records indicate that honey was being fermented across various cultures, including in India; there is an entire chapter in the Rig Veda that focusses on the production of mead, named soma wine. In recent times, homebrewing and amateur wine-making clubs have paved the way for the strong comeback of a craft mead culture in many countries, specially in the USA, where mead is the fastest growing alcoholic segment.
In India, mead has made a comeback with the launch of Moonshine Meadery, in Maharashtra. It was cofounded by Rohan Rehani and Nitin Vishwas in Pune more than a year ago, and their mead is available in 375 restaurants and retail outlets across Mumbai, Pune and Goa. The three flagship sparkling mead variants – traditional mead, coffee mead and an apple cider mead – have year-round arability, and they keep experimenting with micro batches in different styles and flavours. The alcohol content in all the variants does not exceed 6.5%
Traditional mead is a honey wine made only with a blend of honey, water and yeast. Moonshine Traditional mead is made with special single source Ajwain (Caraway) honey. It has rounded honey notes and with time devolves a mild floral note on the nose. This off-dry, balanced, traditional mead makes for easy drinking, and the bubbles help keep the palate alive.
Melomel is a mead fermented or flavoured with fruit, and a melomel made from apples or cider is called Cyser. Moonshine Apple Cider Mead is made with multi-floral honey and apples from Kashmir. Medium golden in appearance, this off-dry, refreshing mead expresses a nose and flavours of cider and honey. Mild tannins from apples add texture, balance and overall complexity to the mead.
Metheglin is a mead fermented or flavoured with herbs or spices, and the Moonshine Coffee mead falls in this category. It’s made by cold- steeping artisanally roasted coffee from Karnataka into a multi-floral honey. This off-dry style of mead has a nose and palate of freshly brewed mild coffee, complemented with notes of honey in the background. Overall, it’s a balanced mead, with a medium finish.
Rs 220 for 330ml in Maharashtra
White Owl Diablo Irish Red Ale (4% > 5% ALCOHOL BY VOLUME)
The White Owl brewery in Mumbai was the brainchild of Javed Murad, a Harvard Business School graduate. Its range of beers is available across Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Goa and Bengaluru. One of the most popular is Diablo (Spanish for ‘devil’), an Irish ale. Copper to light brown in colour, it pours a coffee coloured head. The carbonation is perfect; primarily caramel and toasted malt on the nose and palate. Its taste is creamy, followed by a grainy dryness and a caramelly dry finish. The balance of mild sweetness and hop bitterness, with a perfect carbonation level, adds to the drinkability of this medium-bodied beer.
Rs 130 for 330ml in Delhi/ Rs 140 in Mumbai
Mad King Kòlga/Düfa (4.8%/4.6%)
The labels on these beers says ‘Indian Craft’ — it is brewed for the ever-expanding craft beer market in India, but crafted in Belgium. Currently, two variants, named Kòlga and Düfa, are available in Delhi. Kòlga is a refreshing tropical lager — the mild hop (citrus, resin and spicy) character nicely compliments the malt (caramel and bread) notes, both on the nose and palate. The long, subtle, malty and mildly spicy aftertaste adds to the pleasant drinking experience. Düfa is a Belgian-inspired easydrinking wheat beer – the pale gold, nice and thick head stays well. It has a medium nose with citrus, orange peel, coriander, yeast and wheat malt; it’s on the drier side of the taste spectrum. There’s citrus, yeast, faint hints of orange and coriander on the palate.
Rs 170 for 330ml in Delhi
Kati Patang Zesty Amber Ale (4.8%)
The name is an ode to the uninhibited, free spirit that lies within us all. Kati Patang is a recent (October 2018) entry to the craft beer category in India; the beer is exclusively available in Delhi. It is brewed and bottled in Bhutan, at the Serbhum brewery ; the brand is owned by the founders, Shantanu and his wife Lata. The amber ale pours in a rich golden colour. It is crisp, with a medium caramel flavour and balanced malt sweetness, while a mild hop bitterness adds to its brisk drinkability.
Rs 170 for 330ml in Delhi
White Rhino IPA (6.5%)
White Rhino is a craft beer brand brewed in Madhya Pradesh, and it was launched in October 2016 by Ishaan Puri. For the uninitiated, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which is one of the most-sold craft beer styles in the USA. White Rhino is one of the few local craft beer companies brewing this style of beer. It’s widely believed that the IPA style came into existence when brewers decided to tweak the pale ale recipe, by making the beer higher in alcohol and hoppier, to make it survive the long ship voyage from Britain to India during the colonial era; the beer was meant for British troops stationed in India.
It’s hazy gold in colour and pours with a thick, white, creamy head. Fruity and tropical aromas of mango, pineapple, lychees and citrus abound. It has a hoppy and balanced palate, with decent bitterness on the finish. It has a dry finish and a medium body, which makes it quite drinkable despite a high alcohol content.
Rs 190 for 330ml in Gurugram
Simba Jungle Stout/ Jungle Wheat (5%)
Founded by Prabhtej Bhatia, the Simba beer brand was launched in 2016. Currently, two variants (named Jungle Stout and Jungle Wheat) are available in Bengaluru, Delhi and Goa. The beers are crafted in Chhattisgarh. The Stout is the only one of its kind brewed in India. It pours with a dark brown colour and a thick, creamy (pale brown) head. You’ll find dark chocolate, coffee, roasted malt and caramel on the nose and palate. It’s low on bitterness and has a medium sweetness. Overall, a balanced, smooth, refreshing and easy drinking stout.
The Wheat is a Belgian style wheat beer, with a twist of lemongrass. Golden in colour and cloudy in appearance, this beer forms a thick head on the pour. On the nose, it’s fruity and slightly spicy, with loads of lemongrass, wheat malt, subtle citrusy touches and a bit of yeast. On the palate, it’s mildly sweet, with orange, lemongrass and wheat malt citrus. The beer is quite palatable, with a medium body, nice texture and medium-dry finish.
Rs 150 (Stout)/Rs 110 (Wheat) for 330ml in Delhi
Hopper Witbier/ Blonde (4.9%/4.3%)
Currently, two beer variants, the Belgian-style Wheat Beer and the Belgian Lager, are available in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. It’s the brainchild of Brindco, which also imports and distributes it in India. It pours a pale-yellow colour and with a white head. Medium intensity notes of orange, coriander, wheat malt, yeast and citrus appear on both nose and palate. The beer has a nice carbonic bite; it has a smooth, somewhat creamy texture and a friendly mild bitterness, balanced sweetness and almost dry finish. Overall, a balanced Belgian wheat beer, with perfect carbonation and nice packaging. On the palate, it’s clean, crisp, light bodied, low in bitterness and off-dry.
Rs 160 for 330ml in Delhi