Indian Brews

Date October 26, 2018

If you ask any Brit to name an Indian beer he (or she) will probably answer either ‘Kingfisher’ or ‘Cobra’; they’re ubiquitous in Indian restaurants in Blighty and, for now, we’ll ignore the fact that Kingfisher is brewed for the UK under licence in Kent and that Cobra was designed and originally brewed in the UK for the Indian restaurant market.

Indeed, on my recent trip to Goa, Kingfisher remained the most readily available brew and the most advertised.

When I first visited Goa, about fifteen years ago, the choice of beers was pretty restricted, ‘Kingfisher’ or, if you were lucky, ‘Sandpiper’ and it was ‘Sandpiper’ I drank on that first trip.

Last year I also stumbled across Kings Premium Pilsner, more of which later.

These days, globalisation has meant that more ‘international’ brews are available, bars boast illuminated ‘Budweiser’ and ‘Heineken’ signs while ‘wine shop’ fridges contain Carlsberg, Tuborg and a stronger 8% ABV Budweiser.

Kingfisher has also broadened its range with an 8% brew, an ‘Ultra’, and a canned draught beer – although that feels like an oxymoron.

But there’s also a new generation of Indian craft beers becoming available, particularly in Goa, which is viewed as India’s ‘Party Central’ – although I visited out of season and everything was quiet.

Just outside the resort of Baga – which merges with nearby Calangute to host several miles of party bars – there’s a brew house being commissioned, and brews from several new ‘craft’ breweries are available in the aforementioned ‘wine shops’.

So, firstly to Kings Premium Pilsner

King’s Premium Pilsner 4.8% ABV

I first stumbled across this at the Hard Rock Hotel in Calangute, Goa about a year ago. At the time it was a refreshing change to the ubiquitous Kingfisher.

This visit I’ve determined to seek out some more interesting brews to investigate and review. Rather than ship them back to Blighty I’ve reviewed and photographed them in the comfort of my hotel, so please excuse the non standard photographs.

It pours a crisp pale golden colour, with a tight white head that’s both slow to fade and leaves a pleasing lacing down the glass.

The nose is crisp and hoppy, I doubt they’re classic Saaz hops, but they’ll do.

The flavour is equally crisp, but this brew only works when chilled, there’s a maltiness that creeps out if it warms up at all.

My good friend Alan used to refer to supermarket lagers as ‘Europils’ – at least I think that was the phrase.

So, while I welcome a change from Kingfisher, this only merits two Brewclub stars.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Budweiser Maxim 8% ABV

I was recently told a very rude joke comparing Budweiser to part of the female anatomy, I won’t share it here but it’s probably fair to say that Budweiser is not well regarded among the beer drinking cognoscenti.

So, when I spotted Budweiser Magnum in a ‘wine shop’, aged over beechwood chips and brewed to 8% ABV, I simply had to try it.

It’s brewed in Maharashtra state, somewhere to the east of Mumbai, so pretty much central India.

It pours a very pale gold, much like traditional ‘Bud’, with minimal head.

There’s no nose to speak of, maybe some hints of biscuit, but nothing to write home about.

The flavour is actually quite pleasant; obviously it would be difficult to hide 8% alcohol but, while I was expecting a palate stunner like ‘Tennent’s Extra’ (do they still brew that?), this comes through as very smooth and, dare I say it? Subtle.

There’s a mellow sweetness that’s reminiscent of Budweiser Budvar, and while this shouldn’t be a surprise – Bud was originally brewed as a beer in the Budweis style – it’s both unexpected and very pleasant.

Underneath the sweetness there’s a smooth maltiness, and then the veiled threat of alcohol.

This is actually a well crafted beer, deserving of some respect.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Kingfisher Strong 8% ABV

As I mentioned earlier, United Breweries are diversifying and leveraging the Kingfisher brand with variations on the theme, with Kingfisher Ultra and Kingfisher Strong which is described, by United Breweries as “India’s largest selling beer” being, “brewed from the finest malted barley and hops” – to a potent 8% ABV.

As you will see, it pours unremarkably, a pale lager, who’d have thought it? With very little head.

The nose is disappointing, slightly chemical, no hops to speak of.

The flavour is better, it’s well rounded and you can detect the underlying potency, but it’s missing a refreshing hoppy bite that you’d hope for from a lager.

No matter, it’s interesting and reasonably refreshing – the 5% Premium Kingfisher is crisper and more refreshing  and while I don’t think, at 8%, I could manage too many of these, it appeared to be the ‘go to’ brew for the local lads.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Now on to a couple of India’s new craft brewers, firstly White Owl.

White Owl Spark 5% ABV

It pours a classic witbier, pale gold and hazy, with a tight, white head. There’s some lacing, but not a lot.

The nose is frankly disappointing, yeasty and bready.

But the flavour? Wow! This is classic witbier, dry and also slightly sweet, with hints of banana and orange peel.

It was twenty eight degrees (Celsius – about eighty four in Fahrenheit)when I tasted this, late afternoon in Goa, and this brew shone through, really refreshing.

I’m going to give this four and a half Brewclub stars… it’s a great brew, they also brew ‘Halcyon’ – a Hefeweizen, sadly I couldn’t find it in any of the ‘wine shops’ in Calangute or Baga – I tried!

Rating: ★★★★½

White Owl Diablo 5% ABV

Diablo is White Owl’s take on a ‘Irish Red’ ale, not a particularly widespread style, most examples I can bring to mind are actually French.

It pours a deep amber, without much evidence of a head. White Owl describe their brews as ‘partially filtered’ so the brew looks a bit muddy.

The nose is malt loaf.

Flavour-wise it’s quite thin, what flavour there is is malty, with caramel, as I mentioned, this is a difficult style to compare against, but I generally found this to be unsatisfying. 

And when you consider that White Owl also brew ‘Spark’, this is a disappointment.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Despite Diablo being a disappointment, I suspect that White Owl could prove to be India’s Brewdog, they’re punchy, full of ‘in your face’ attitude and they brew interesting beers.

If you’re ever in India – and stranger things have happened – look out for the White Owl.

Another Indian Craft brew I found was from the Simba brewery.

Simba are part of Sona Beverages, who brew a range of beers for international brands, under licence, in Chhattisgarh, in Raipur, North East India.

They brew four Simba beers including this – ‘Wit’. Frankly, it’s (no pun intended) sometimes a relief to be offered something other that the ubiquitous, but not unpleasant, Kingfisher.

Simba Wit 5% ABV

It pours a pale golden colour, with no discernible head, and it’s clear, I was expecting something hazy.

There’s no nose to speak of, but the flavour is classic ‘Wit’, with orange peel and coriander. The brewery suggests lemongrass but I couldn’t discern it.

It’s all in there, but subtly, like a ‘Wit Lite’, not an ‘in your face’ Wit Bier like Hoegarden, I really like it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

And finally, the last craft brewery I found was ‘Bira 91’

Bira 91 Blonde 4.9% ABV

Described as a strong, hoppy lager.

It pours a very, very pale golden colour, with no noticeable head.

Similarly, there’s very little nose to speak of; this is something I’ve noticed among these Indian craft brews.

And, to be honest, there’s very little flavour to speak of.

I’m sorry, I experienced some good brews on this trip, but this is a major disappointment.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Bira 91 White 5% ABV

In all honesty, this beer is everything the previous one wasn’t.

It pours pale gold with a rich, fulsome white head. There’s a rich hefeweizen nose, banana, coriander, and lemon.

And the flavour is simply delicious, the lemon hits first, followed by the coriander, banana and bubblegum…and then, bizarrely, a hit of honey and butter.

I really enjoyed this brew, if you’re a fan of classic hefeweizen brews, keep an eye out for this one.

Oh – and it comes in cans too! 

Rating: ★★★★★


Strangely, I failed to find a single IPA during my trip. Go figure.

Sad farewells

Date September 20, 2018

I was saddened to read today that Dave Bailey has decided to wind up the Hardknott brewery.

With Dave Bailey of Hardknott Brewery

Dave writes (here) that he believes that there are now too many breweries in the UK – around 2,000 – and that many of those are not financially viable.

It’s a great shame, Hardknott brewed some epic beers, and had managed to get shelf space in some major supermarkets but, like Tom Newman’s ‘Celt Experience’, they’re now joining the ranks of great breweries that fell by the wayside.

And on another sad note, following my post a few months ago, I returned from vacation last week to find a cheque from Wilderness Brewing, returning what was left of my crowdfunding investment.

Inevitably, it’ll cost me more to bank it than it’s worth, but thanks guys.  

Greene King Yardbird Pale Ale 4% ABV

Date September 3, 2018

I few weeks ago I attended the annual summer party of the Guild of British Beer Writers, hosted at the Brixton Brewing Company. As we left, we were presented with ‘goody bags’ containing a bottle of Green King’s ‘Yardbird’ Pale Ale, with matching branded pint glass.

Well, it would be rude to refuse.

Yardbird was first brewed by Greene King in 2015 as a seasonal brew, but they’ve recently revised the recipe and relaunched it as a year round ale.

Greene King describe Yardbird (named for jazz legend Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker) as an American Pale Ale, that “takes inspiration from the freedom and energy of American jazz“. It’s brewed with American Citra, Centennial and Simcoe hops to “pack a real citrus punch to entice the taste buds“.

So, here we go.

It pours a bright pale golden colour, with a tight, white head that’s slow to fade.

The nose is dry, more than citrus, but still hoppy.

The flavour is biscuit base, with hops coming through, but not overly citrus, I didn’t get much evidence of the Citra or Simcoe hops.

It reminds me of Marstons’ ‘New World IPA’ that I enjoyed greatly a few years ago, although I haven’t seen much evidence of that brew lately.

I’ve heard a phrase recently, somewhat disparagingly ‘big brewery tries to do craft’ – okay so that’s what we have here, and while it’s never going to compare favourably head to head with a ‘real’ craft beer, we have a brew that’s refreshing with a bit more flavour than most big brews.

As such it very, very, nearly merits four Brewclub stars, but it doesn’t deliver the promised ‘citrus punch‘ and so I’m going to give it three and a half.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Beer supplied by the Beer Pixies.
The Beer Pixies - at The Brewclub

Great British Beer Festival 2018

Date August 20, 2018

A couple of weeks ago I attended the 41st Great British Beer Festival, and my 25th.

Since I started writing for The Brewclub and joined the Guild of British Beer Writers I’ve been able to blag entry to the first session, ‘Trade Day’ which takes place on the Tuesday afternoon – the doors open to the public at 5pm. So, no chance of theme being short of stock as per my 2009 visit!

Unfortunately, I was scheduled to present to a committee of my local City Council in the evening, so I knew I would have to keep a clear head and be very selective. I also resolved to only drink ‘thirds’.

Greene King were one of the ‘flagship’ sponsors, and had announced that they would be bringing a limited stock of their ‘5X’, brewed to 12% ABV and oak aged for two years.

It’s 5X that Greene King use to make ‘Old Crafty Hen’ ale, that I reviewed (here) on its launch back in 2009. Needless to say, I was first in line to try the 5X and found it to be delicious, rich with a vineous woody flavour, not unlike, say, Rodenbach or Duchesse du Bourgogne.

Budweiser Budvar were also present, with their unpasteurised ‘tanked’ lager. I remember the first time that Budvar appeared at the GBBF, there were dark mutterings from dyed in the wool real ale fanatics and it’s perhaps indicative that CAMRA are increasingly embracing different beer traditions.

On a roasting hot August day, Budvar provided a crisp relief from some of the more exotic brews in offer.

Also present were Thornbridge, with a distinctive ‘Jaipur’ decorated VW microbus and an interesting selection of brews including ‘Strawberry Lucaria’ – a Strawberry Ice Cream Porter – the strawberry flavour enhancing the vanilla notes of the porter, ‘Salted Caramel Ice Cream Porter’ – another twist on the ‘Lucaria’ base, and a deliciously refreshing ‘Florida Weisse’.

What was noticeable was the breweries who weren’t present, including Tiny Rebel and Brewdog. The Brewdog/CAMRA spat has been ongoing for some time, but Tiny Rebel were blocked by CAMRA because they stated that they were planning to only serve Keg beer. The cask/keg debate rumbles on, which is a shame because both breweries brew innovative and exciting brews.

Drone Valley Beers

Date August 13, 2018

In the mid seventies my parents’ jobs were relocated from London to Sheffield, about 160 miles north, and they bought a house in ‘Dronfield’ – a small town midway between Sheffield and Chesterfield, named from the River Drone that runs through it.

I was reminded of the River Drone when a good friend recently presented me with a selection of brews from the ‘Drone Valley Brewery’. The brewery was founded in 2015 as a ‘community benefit society’ which sets out to return its profits to the community. As such it’s unique as a brewery, the only independent Community Brewery in the UK.

The brewery was built by local people and all their beers are brewed by volunteers.

Its brews, served in 500ml bottles, are named from local features, which I’ll cover individually.

They’re also all bottle conditioned (if they appear cloudy in the photographs) and short dated – so presumably unpasteurised. They also carry a ‘not suitable for vegetarians’ warning, presumably because of the finings used.

So, to the beers.

Dronny Bottom Bitter 3.7% ABV

The main road between Chesterfield and Sheffield runs through the bottom of the Drone Valley, and is known to all residents, affectionately, as ‘Dronfield or Dronny Bottom’.

The brewery describes this as “a malty taste with caramel hints give a less bitter finish“.

It pours a dark copper colour, with a rich, tight off-white head.

The nose is crisp but malty.

It’s flavour is perhaps less malty than was promised, but overall it has a good balance, achieves what it sets out to, which according to our beer rating system merits four Brewclub stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Gosforth Gold 4% ABV

It was to the Gosforth Valley that my parents actually moved in 1975, the valley was being developed as a new estate and termed “Dronfield Woodhouse”, they lived there for about twenty years.
The brewery describe Gosforth Gold as a “classic golden session pale” brewed using Brewer’s Gold, Muttlefruh and Cascade hops to “give a citrus aroma and grassy mouthfeel.

It pours, as one might expect, a pale gold, with a crisp, generous head that’s slow to fade.The nose is slightly creamy, more than citrus, that’ll be the exotic  Muttlefruh hops.

The flavour is dry, crisp, almost metallic, but not in an unpleasant way, I’m not sure what a “grassy mouthfeel” actually is, it doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but on a hot summer’s day it’s a very refreshing brew, and at just 4% it’s not too dangerous to reach for a second or third. .

Again, achieving what it set out to.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Fanshawe Blonde 4.8% ABV

Fanshawe Blonde is named for the Town’s ‘Henry Fanshawe’ school, founded by founded in 1578 by Thomas Fanshawe, by the will of his uncle Henry Fanshawe. Both served as ‘Remembrancer of the Exchequer’ in the 16th Century, it being an ancient judicial post in the legal system of England and Wales. Fanshawes were connected with the role from 1533 to 1716.

‘Fanshawe Blonde’ may refer to the colour of the beer, it being a strong golden pale ale, or possibly to students of the school – I’m sure my younger brother dated several ‘Fanshawe Blondes’ in his time.

The brewery describe the beer as being “well balanced using Cardinal, Mittlefruh and cascade hop varieties give citrus notes and a wholesome mouthfeel.

Again, we’re treated to a pale gold, with a crisp, generous white head.

The nose is a bit more exotic than Gosforth Gold, a bit more citrus showing through.

The flavour is again, dry and hoppy, crisp, but without the metallic notes. It might be the extra potency, but this tastes fuller, more balanced, but again, very refreshing.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Drone Valley IPA 5.2% ABV

Finally, I turn my attention to the strongest of the four brews I was given, and perhaps the hardest to get right. There are so many different interpretations of IPA these days, it’s a very broad church.

That said, they’ve brewed it using ‘Brewers Gold, Challenger and Cascade hops’ a mix of old school and new world hops that they claim ‘give floral notes and a pleasant citrus feel’.

So, it pours a familiar pale gold, but the nose is disappointing, I was beginning to get concerned.

No matter, there’s a good hop bite in there, not a ‘hop bomb’ by any means, but a good, crisp, dry, hoppy IPA.

Rating: ★★★★☆

In Conclusion

The Drone Valley Brewery boasts that it’s Britain’s only independent Community Brewery with profits invested in the local community.

They brew good beers, particularly (or not surprisingly) for a brewery run by volunteers.

I spotted another of their brews in the Coach & Horses, a Thornbridge pub in Stubley Hollow, Dronfield, so hopefully they have the backing of the community.

Back in the day, Dronfield was best known for a pub that served a well kept pint of Teley Bitter and a local in the Gosforth Valley that served Shipstones ales.

All strength to the Drone Valley Brewery, I’ll look their brews out next time I’m in the area.

Their website can be found here and, in the interests of accuracy, I’ve tagged these as ‘Yorkshire Beers’, Dronfield actually lies about three miles over the border into Derbyshire.