In many parties — correct me if I am wrong — when you choose beer as your choice of drink, the host somehow tends to bracket you as a non-serious drinker. Even though he might be chuckling from within that you are not wrecking his bar budget by plumping for his prized single malts and French wines, he would still not spare you from the feeling, maybe half the feeling, that you are not a serious aficionado of the good things of life. You know what I mean — that subtle touch, that careful sniffing, swirling that you do to your drink if you are a fine whiskey or wine guzzler. As a beer drinker, all you are bothered about is, well, how chilled is my ale?
But I am here today to bat for beer. Seriously. Not for the industrial types but for the boutique beers, which too come with a singular touch with complex flavours, and in this part of the globe, are not too easy to get hold of. No, don't be disappointed, I shall certainly tell you where to head in Delhi to take a nip at these beers but first things first. Which is, a bit of lowdown on the history of boutique beers.
In case you have been to Belgium, my job is easy. For you already know about its popular boutique beer, the Trappist beer, available all over this European country. Some call them abbey beer too because they are produced by the monks of the Trappist Order of Christianity. The culture of monastic breweries thrived in Europe, particularly France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, The Netherlands, etc. for over 300 years. The money generated from selling their ale (they also sell some superb cheeses) makes them self-sufficient and helps fund their social initiatives. However, many such breweries suffered during the French Revolution and subsequently during the World Wars, many closing down eventually, thus considerably lessening their numbers.
Today, Belgium is the hub for Trappist beers with six such breweries and one each in The Netherlands and Germany, which produce limited quantity beers with a common logo. Though the oldest is Rochefort (the brewery started in 1595), Chimay (1863) is a more popular Trappist brand worldwide. These beers vary in colour as per their alcohol content. Chimay belongs to the Tripel variety because it has high alcohol. However, many Trappist beers have around 3 per cent alcohol.
Besides these, there are some more interesting boutique beers produced in small numbers and feted worldwide. Like Saison Dupont, adjudged the Best Beer in the World by Men's Journal in 2005. Saison beers too trace their origin to Belgium, to its French speaking region. Pale ales, saisons were traditionally brewed in autumn or winter so that they were ready for summer. They were formerly made by the landlords as a summer drink for their farmhands.
In India, we can perhaps call Goa's Kings Beer a boutique label, locally brewed and available only in that region. By the way, look-wise, Kings have so much similarity with Chimay!
In Delhi though, it is easier to lay your hands on the popular boutique beers from Europe than on Kings. The Lounge Bar at Eros Hotel, managed by Hilton in Nehru Place, has a section of boutique beers in its list. It has the usual suspects — Chimay Blue (Trappist beer, Rs.700 for 330 ml), Saison Dupont (Rs.600 for 330 ml), Schneider Wesse Original (Trappist beer from Germany, Rs.500, 330 ml) and the saison beer made in the French region of Belgium, Moinette Biologique (Rs.1200 for 750 ml). Its bartender Ahmad Faisal says he often gets queries from customers now as to what kind of beers these are.
“There is still not much awareness about boutique beers here, but once they have it they often like it,” he adds. Among the brands Faisal has, “just one bottle of Chimay Blue with 9 per cent alcohol,” he assures us with a naughty laugh, “is enough to satisfy a traditionally large whiskey or rum drinker here.”
For me, I shall bide my time to be at the café of any Trappist abbey some day, where they sometimes serve the patersbier (Fathers' beer), made exclusively for the monks and which tastes the best it seems.