For a country used to bottled beer, the microbrewery trend is invigorating
It’s that time of the night. Too late to make a ‘plan’. Too early for pyjamas. Besides, we’re in Gurgaon. And we’ve just finished a long, languid dinner at the chic new Vivanta by Taj, which towers over Gurgaon like a super-model in stilettos. Fortunately sommelier Magandeep Singh hasn’t made an escape yet. He’s a wine taster and educator, a writer and the host of Around the World in 85 Plates on NDTV Good Times. But more importantly, he always seems to know what’s happening, and where. So we gather around and whine petulantly. “Take us somewhere. Anywhere.” Ten minutes later we’re on our way to Lemp Brewpub and Kitchen, arguably India’s finest microbrewery.
While a microbrewery is basically a brewery that produces a limited amount of beer, it’s a term that has become synonymous with quality, creativity and individuality. For a country used to bottled beer (and that too a very limited collection of these) the trend is unexpectedly invigorating — proving that with beer there really is something for everyone. On the way Magandeep explains that legally speaking; a microbrewery must make and sell its beer in one place. It can’t be bottled or transported since it has no preservatives. Pune has a couple, as does Bangalore. But Gurgaon leads the pack with seven.
Lemp Brewpub and Kitchen is a franchise of the Lemp brewery in the U.S., famous for giving the States its first lager beer in the 1840s. Founder Akshay Luthria who joins us, balancing a massive mug of golden beer, says there are advantages to being in Guragon. “It’s a great place. Many corporates. It’s organised. Has good infrastructure... But the water is hard. And water is 75 per cent of the beer.” He adds, “Harder the water, more worse the beer… and considering Gurgaon has the worst water in India, it means we need to do a quadruple distillation to match quality of Lemp in the U.S.”
It’s worth the effort. Customers love these beers as they tend to be “better, fresher and cleaner,” than your average bottled beer, says Magandeep. “Besides, you can play a lot with the taste — it’s in your hands,” he adds. We realise how varied flavours can be when we try Lemp’s beer sampler — a line up of shot glasses displaying six different styles. We’re instructed to start with the lightest. There’s creamy Wit Bier, made in the Belgian style, spiked with coriander and orange peel. Ultra Pale Ale, softly bitter with a focus on the flavour of hops. (An essential ingredient in the making of beer, hops come from a small, bitter flowering plant, and are used to provide balance.) Cherokee Red, which is strong, caramelly and spicy. There’s a standard lager, with toasted malt notes. For those of you who would like something more indulgent, try Jurassic Park, gently laced with the flavours of banana and clove. Or lavender lady, made with cocoa powder, besides the traditional malt and hops.
Bananas? Oranges? Cocoa? Is this a beer or a milkshake? Luthria explains that the range of flavours is one of their biggest advantages. “Well, that and the fact that you don’t burp after drinking fresh beer,” he laughs. “The beer we make is created to be consumed right here. Bottled beer has all kinds of additives, including glycerine. (Glycerine is added to stretch the shelf-life but can affect the beer in the bargain.) Besides, when you drink a bottle of beer, you don’t really know whether it’s three months or one year old. You don’t know how it’s been stored. With fresh beer, you’ll never get sick, or have indigestion.” He adds, “Everything a microbrewery adds is fresh — oranges, citrusy hops, mangoes… Our German wheat beer has bananas and cloves. We even make a healthy beer by adding Quaker oats to it.” Oats? Our eyes light up. Unfortunately, he reads our minds. “Nope. I still don’t recommend having it for breakfast!”