More and more micro-breweries are popping up in Gurgaon. One of them makes the first American craft beer LEMP

A wide wooden door with black leather lining closes behind me and I am in a large hall with a high ceiling. Most of the space is occupied by wooden chairs and tables — some in striking blood red cover, besides a strip of bar stools and a nook that gives a cosy lounge look. What has brought me here is at the far end of the hall though. I am at LEMP Brewpub and Kitchen in Gurgaon’s Star City Mall, sniffing for its craft beer, stored in huge shining steel casks displayed on an open attic — a view I grab directly from the entrance.

LEMP Brewpub is one of several micro-breweries in Gurgaon today which craft their own beer. It brews a range of LEMPs, arguably America’s first lager beer, and is the only micro-brewery in North India (it has a branch in Bangalore) to do it. To weave in a bit of history, LEMP is a 173-year-old brand based out of St. Louis, U.S. It was started by one John Adam Lemp who arrived in St. Louis from Germany in 1838. He began by selling the home-brewed lager at his grocery store before fortune smiled on him.

During Prohibition in America in 1919, Lemp suffered losses and had to sell the brewery. After changing hands and also names for the company for years, it was revived in 1987 by St. Louis beer historian Steven DeBellis. Setting up micro-breweries in parts of the world — like this one in Gurgaon, is the new owner’s attempt at grabbing fresh markets for survival.

At the Gurgaon micro-brewery, its Brew Master, an affable Ishan Grover, is keen to show us how the lagers are brewed. From a back door, we clamber up to the attic. The first view is of a sanitised area with a row of huge steel containers, one linked to the other. Ishan, armed with a Master’s degree in brewing from Scotland and some research experience with Ghana Food Institute, takes the front seat naturally. He shows us the malt barley imported from The Netherlands to produce the beer. The leftover malt barley goes to the farmers around Gurgaon for free. “Since it is high in protein, it becomes great fodder for their cows,” he says.

Ishan demonstrates the entire process, how the barley turns into starch and is converted into sugar, why hops are used. “Hops work as a preservative, it also adds the much-needed bitterness to the beer plus adds aroma to it.”

The water is recycled. “We tweak the water profile a bit to match the LEMP standards,” he says but refuses to divulge “the secret”. Ishan makes six types of LEMP beer to serve at the pub downstairs. The different ingredients for each are mixed after the crushed barley is mixed with water at 100 degrees temperature. “Just the other day, I made mango beer. I added the Alphonso mango pulp at this point,” he adds.

Ishan’s day begins by tasting beer. “We do a lab test every morning to check the freshness of the brews. Ales have a life of 22 days and lagers remain for 40 days,” he says. Here, he faces a problem “typical to India”. Customers come to him asking for “fresh” beer. “They have this idea that the beer made in the mornings is served in the evenings.” Then, there are some who want froth in their beer. “A customer goes by the head, the froth of the beer. Not all beers have a strong head. But he wants it in every variety. Otherwise, he thinks the beer is flat.”

The standard LEMP lager sells the most as it generates sizeable froth. Though the most potent one — something that desi drinkers prefer, is Lavender Lady, a dessert beer with an alcohol content of 7 per cent. The pub has a wheat beer — light, creamy, pretty impressive. Then there is Cherokee Red, dark beer with a caramel taste. Though not so popular, LEMP’s ultra pale ale is swig worthy too. It also has Blonde Beer, named such as it matches the hair colour of blondes. These days, Ishan is thinking of brewing a paan flavoured beer. “Won’t it be great?” he asks.

Since glasses play a role in how a beer looks, they “make sure that they are spotlessly clean, otherwise bubbles can’t come to the top of the glass.”

Though there are only four States that give license to set up micro-breweries, Ishan is hopeful of a great future for craft beer in India. “As more and more people get to taste it, the market will grow,” he says. Personally, he is having a tough time convincing his mother that even after brewing beer, he can get a bride from a decent family!