THE ORIGINS OF INDIA PALE ALE
THE THIRSTY BRITISH
RECIPE IN BREWING
IPA’S SECOND LIFE – THE AMERICAS
The country is gifted with over 100 styles of hops. From citrusy Centennial, fruity Citra, to the piney Simcoe, and mellow Willamette, you name it!There was a library of flavours to be explored. And not just that, a variety of yeasts, and array of grains and substitutes, a range of oak options, and personal touches from the brewers. Americans don’t believe in halves, then why would they do that with their hops? They started upping its inclusion and designed styles like Imperial, Double, Triple, and more. Using bigger and bolder hops, brewing upto a higher alcohol by volume, and accentuating the bitterness almost became a matter worth boasting, and deriving some higher sense of masculinity off of it. Amidst all this, beers were left undrinkable, or at least unpalatable.
Albeit all that, the craze gifted the world two major strengths. One, the confidence to experiment and go a tad loco. And the other, a vast variety of hops to toy with.
IPA – BATTLE BETWEEN FLAVOUR & BITTERNESS
Over the past few years, the tug-off war between flavours and bitterness in American IPAs has mellowed down. As the consumers are now looking for flavours over bitterness, the crazy battle of being the biggest, meanest, and the boldest brew is passe. IPAs today are dry beers with moderate strength, that have been attenuated from their primitive British avatar. That is, being dominated by hoppy flavours and aromas, and defined by their characteristic bitterness. For some, bitterness is not favourable, but with IPAs it’s their identifying typicity.
INDIA’S TRYST WITH INDIA PALE ALE
A few years ago, if one asked for an IPA at the poshest of Indian microbreweries, the server would’ve drawn a blank stare. When Mohan Meakins took over the breweries from Dyer in 1949, they continued brewing, but shut down its IPA production, to focus only on the lagers. Since then things have only gotten worse. Till date, the Indian alcohol market is regulated by complex and cryptic rules. They favours local producers, stripping them off of any motivation to focus on quality production. The market is monopolised, and beers are made with inferior malts, or substitutes, flushed with syrupy preservatives like glycerine. Add to that bad storage. No surprise that two bottles from the same batch may taste oddly unidentical.
COMING OF A NEW AGE
It is only in the recent times, that microbreweries have come in and have really started focusing on quality. However, in a market where 95% of consumption is still held by lagers. 65% of this is strong beers. Creating a space for craft beers wasn’t to be easy. The growing new interest in microbreweries signals that a revolution is brewing in the market, both, quantitatively and qualitatively. White Rhino and Bira91 have been bottling their IPAs, while Arbor and Goa Brewing Company have found similar success in Goa.
PROMISE IN IPA
White Rhino’s owner and brewer, Ishaan Puri, says it is still a style for those who really know their beers. He further adds, its only a small percentage of their sales. Mumbai based Navin Mittal of Gateway Brewing Company, and Ketan Gohel of Brewbot, however, sees a constant growth in the category. Wheat beers still own up a bigger portion of their revenues. But, their consumers are keenly interested in trying more flavoursome and hoppier beers. Gaurav Sikka, Managing Director of Bengaluru-based Arbor Brewing Company comments that IPAs are gaining ground. He’s seeing an increased range of IPAs across brewpubs in the city which is considered the India’s craft beer capital.
DRINKING IPA – WHAT TO EXPECT
BUT, WHY IPA
OUR DEVELOPING TASTEBUDS
THE FUTURE OF IPA IN INDIA
Having said all this, is there a space for IPAs in the Indian market? To say this is the least. The Indian beer industry is steadily growing at an average of 17 – 22 percent each year over the past decade or so. New international mass-produced beers are entering the market, microbreweries are mushrooming, and new brands are emerging and diversifying their offerings. India consumed around 200 million cases last year, yet with only five litres per capita consumption in India, as compared to 142 in the Czech Republic and 108 in Namibia, there’s a substantial room to grow.
According to Ketan, there’s a very bright future for IPA’s in India, albeit lager dominance. With more and more people travelling around the world, their palates are evolving, they’re more adventurous, and open to trying new things. Now, we at least see IPAs available in bottles off the shelf in India, which shows that there’s definitely increasing demand. Navin sees more variants reaching the taps in the future. He adds that the breweries keep experimenting and a devoted IPA lover loves to explore. Ishaan, while promoting experimentation and trials, also lays emphasis on educating the palates of the consumers. It will take a while, but we do need breweries to help kick start the movement, he adds. Thomas is optimistic and confident that IPA is here to stay, and it will continue to evolve more than any other style.
STOCK UP ‘EM IPAs
Pliny The Elder, once said, ‘Humans have spent more time on trying to figure out how to preserve a fermented beverage than anything else’. For the first man-made beverage that has survived the test of time, beers are a witness of our developing civilisation. For a civilised beverage that’s way more than just a social unifier, and a liquid for after-hours guzzling, beers are a serious drink with a longer history than wines, beers, and spirits. Spare a thought to it when you’re sipping your next beer, for it deserves it. Cheers!!
First published in Sommelier India Wine Magazine in July, 2019