Something remarkable is going on. Not in a way that makes headlines overnight and definitely not something you see on hoardings splashed across the streets, this is more of a discreet revolution, but in no way weak. One that is fought in neighborhood bars and pubs and one that will soon change the way you drink beer- forever. Beer, as you know it, is being re-invented. Silently.
In its history, India has had too much of a lot of things, but never in its past has it had this large a number of breweries and home-brewers making such a wide range of beers, beers that sometimes challenge you as a drinker and maybe at times, even pick a fight with your palate. Beers that question its very own definition as you once knew it. Beer is no longer the drink you have on days when you don’t feel like a whiskey.
Though it barely matters now, but it’s hard to put a finger on what or who started all this, maybe it was the stringent prohibition laws that govern our liquor policies today thatmust have pushed certain people to look at homebrewing as a hobby and make the beer they want to drink rather than rely on what is available. Or, it could have been a more selfish and opportunistic approach by a set of individuals wanting to make the first bar with fresh beer as theirUSP- it would petty and unfair to give theentire credit of this movement to either of them.I think it was the common dissent for the miserable beer scene here that pushed many of us to go ahead with our vision, imagination, capital and a bit of foolish optimism to start our own brewery- not in a rebellious or heroic manner but just because we gave that one extra f*** more about our beer back then- a habit that you see slowly forming with the drinkers now.
If you look at the US where this movement started probably 4 decades back, you will notice that theSab Millers and Ab-Inbevs are now acquiring craft breweries to help grow their market share which was more or less flat for the past 5 years. This sensibility comes after all the muscleand money they have put behind big budget ads trying to mock the craft beer movement. The beer industry in US today is roughly $106 Billion, out which craft beer accounts for $23 Billion and counting- just this, is almost 4 times the size of the entire Indian beer market which stands at just about $6 Billion (Yes, beers like Khajuraho, Kingfisher, Haywards, Godfather, inclusive)!
Today, it’s tough to fit the number of home-brewers in the country on a single WhatsApp group, a couple of years back; you could count them on your fingers. They organize tasting sessions which include a variety of beers from an easy going grilled pineapple saison to a more robust biere-de-garde and everything in between that you could possibly imagine, if only you knew any better.
Beer in India today is individualistic, it’s democratic, it has got a voice, personality and maybe even some balls. It’s being made by a very real set of men and womenwho live their brand on a daily basis, unlike the faceless corporations of the past that tricked you all this while, using HD pictures of swimsuit models into believing that the product they are making was beer. The stage has been set, and today, the brewers are finally the hero of their own show.
Flashback a couple of years, if you were a beer drinker and stepped out to drink good beer- your only option was to drink vodka, because on one hand you could drink the heavily discounted yellow-fizzy-watery-lowest common denominator-liquid packaged as beer, sold to you by an out-of-your-reach sexy little thing in a bikini, holding it somewhere between her chest if not her legs while on the other hand your option was to pay through your nose for beers which had probably expired by the time they got to you. To make this worse- even what was being imported back then was the same yellow fizzy liquid from another country with maybe an even more out-of-your-reach Latina model this time. Good, artisanal and delicious beer just wasn’t accessible. Today, importers like Riday of Yeast India Co. are bringing in beers like Erdinger, Trooper & Hobgoblin, knowing very well the limited amount of people it caters to, but you ask him and he’d say thatit’s not as much of a deterrent as it is sheerpromise of the market potential India has for such beers. As I said earlier- foolish optimism.
The most popular beer category in India today (yes, we have categories now!), might be a wheat beer, and that’s quite a big change as well. There are drinkers today who can differentiate a German style wheat beer (Hefeweizen) from a Belgian style wheat beer (Witbier). Most of the breweries today make IPAs, stouts, porters and pale ales which might not be the most popular styles yet, but ask any brewer or restaurateur and they know that there is a very steady and sure stream of regulars who will walk out of their bar if they don’t have any of these on tap.
The beers available just in the city today range from the easy going White Zen (Gateway), British Best Bitter (Independence) and Milk Stout (Brewbot) to the slightly challenging Rauchbier (Doolally) and A1 IPA (Gateway). Breweries are collaborating with chefs, artists and home-brewers to design newer beers ground up. Each one with a different story and idea, not to mention a different occasion and mood suited to each.
Independence recently hosted a 4-day long craft beer boot-camp at their space in Pune, for everyone interested in knowing more about brewing beer. Gateway Brewing Co.supplies 3 distinct beers on tap to over 80 bars employing an end-to-end cold chain in Mumbai and has made collaborative beers with The Bombay Canteen (Darling-Jee), Woodside Inn (Ale Caesar) and home brewer Pratik Bavishi (Kaapi Stout) using locally sourced ingredients. Doolally has started their third taproom in Mumbai within two years. Brewbot hosted a collaborative craft beer weekender, showcasing every local beer of Mumbai under one roof. White Rhino in Madhya Pradesh will probably be the first craft beer to be bottled in India,Arbor Brewing from Bangalore is barrel ageing their beers and is setting up a new space in Goa. Toit is opening a new brewery to cater to Maharashtra. Gurgaon has over 20 brewpubs to speak of, and Delhi, Hyderabad and Calcutta are all opening up their micro-brewing policies.
It’s clear that this movement is growing rapidly, craft breweries like ours aren’t trying to suck you down any rabbit hole with big money spends on bullshit advertising proclaiming how our beer is falsely superior to our competitors,we are just trying to humor you with the varied choices we throw out. Next time you are at a bar and ordering your ‘regular’ beer, just look around, and maybe question why the beer in everyone’s hand looks so different than the one in your glass.
It wouldn’t be correct to just talk about the makers;it’s the drinkers who are willing to shell out their hard hustled for cash in search of the new, who play a more than equal part in this equation. It’s because of them that breweries can take that extra bit of risk in making something that they haven’t tried before.
Most of the craft brewers in the country appeal to a 25 to 40-year-old demographic, people in this this age band in India might have lesser cash in their pockets than their older or evenyounger counterparts, but when they do spend it, they are seriously cautious of what they want to buy with it, and it can’t be mediocre or ordinary.It’s because of this new better drinking habit that tickets to craft beer festivals are sold out as soon as they are announced.
The policies today are still protective of the bigger guys, they restrict us small players from a range of advantages that the larger guys enjoy like distributionboundaries, taxation structures, bottling permissions and label registrations to name a few. But the day isn’t far when you’ll walk into your local beer shop, ask for a beer and the guy at the counter, instead of pulling out the chilliest beer he’s got from the back, will respond with a gleeful “Kaunsa chahiye? Pale ale, porter ke hefeweizen?” Almost as if testing your knowledge and maybe even judging you by your choice.