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.

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