Now, Bengaluru micro brewers go against the grain, let humble ragi add a fizz

Many curious takers are opting for the freshly brewed drink from the popular millet as breweries are experimenting with several locally grown fruits, spices and veggies

March 26, 2017 01:29 am | Updated 01:30 am IST - Bengaluru

Pitcher perfect:  Variety of beer being made from millets at  The Biere Club on Lavelle Road in Bengaluru.

Pitcher perfect: Variety of beer being made from millets at The Biere Club on Lavelle Road in Bengaluru.

When The Biere Club, the oldest micro brewery in Bengaluru's central business district, opened the tap for ragi beer recently, it had many curious takers. The pale ale, freshly brewed from organic ragi sourced from H.D. Kote taluk, about 200 km from the city, was competing with its popular wheat variants that have been the staple.

Within a couple of days, more than a third of the nearly 1,000 litre tank had been emptied by beer guzzlers. Earlier, in January/February, another micro brewery, Toit Brewpub at Indiranagar, had a similar experience when it put its ragi beer on the tap.

A popular millet in South Karnataka, known for its low glycemic index, ragi is among the many locally tapped ingredients for craft beers being served at the city's micro breweries though wheat beer continues to rule the roost. The brewers are experimenting with several fruits, spices and vegetables to bring a local flavour to the beer and the response has been enthusiastic, they say.

Earthy taste

“We wanted reach a wider palate and ragi gives an earthy taste in the beer. The response has been amazing and we did not expect it,” Head Brewer of The Biere Club, Rohit Jairam Parwani said, adding that the beer was accepted well at the micro brewery's Whitefield outlet too. “Seasonal beers have been liked by all demographies, and the expat population in the city, looking for indigenously brewed beer, are among its biggest patrons,” he said.

But beer brewed from ragi and other millets is not new as a concept and has been a tradition in many African countries as also in parts of Nepal and Bhutan. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations termed these millet beer. Even the Mysuru-based Central Food Technology Research Institute had researched ragi beer in the late 70s and 80s, but the liquor has not been commercialised here. In Bengaluru, brewers have used a combination of ragi, ragi malt, jaggery and barley to brew the beer. Jaggery has been used since ragi is low on sugar and barley to get the enzymes and taste.

Toit, which was the first to experiment with ragi beer, also had a good response from its patrons. “Ragi is a special variant and we do it regularly. So far, we have got a good response with only a few negative feedbacks,” said Mathew Callaghan, Head Brewer at The Toit. “We try to do different beers every month,” he said.

For the H.D. Kote-based organic farmer Vivek Cariappa, who has supplied the millet to The Biere Club, the idea of brewing ragi came after his visit to Mozambique. “If ragi can replace imported malts, farmers dependent on this drought resistant millet can benefit financially. I approached brewers in Bengaluru to look at the possibility of brewing ragi commercially,” Mr. Cariappa said. So what next for the brewers? With ragi finding acceptance as a seasonal drink, beer lovers in Bengaluru can look forward to beer brewed from sorghum and bajra as well.

Experimental stuff

While the popular millet of southern Karnataka is finding space among the seasonal beers in the breweries here for around six years after the first micro brewery came up in Bengaluru, beer enthusiasts are slowly opening up to a variety of experimental craft beers. While the European or an American-styled beers are still popular in the micro breweries, some of the seasonal beers are also emerging on the scene.

Brewers are experimenting with fruits, spices and vegetables to bring a local flavour into the beer. The mango beer, another seasonal beer that is on the menu at several micro breweries, is among the much-awaited seasonal fruit-based beers. Customers have been exposed to beers brewed from grape fruit, strawberry, peach, oranges, lemons, honey, pumpkin, and spices including chilli peppers and ginger. “People are now more open to experimenting with and tasting new craft beers,” Mr. Parwani said. “Today customers ask for new varieties to be introduced or ask for beers that they would have tasted in other countries.”

“I like the finest and the freshest. Why not taste a beer brewed out of locally available ingredients when you can get it fresh?” asked Dhanan K.J., a beer connoisseur working in a multinational company here.

Commercial viability

As brew masters look for new variants using locally available raw materials, they are also constantly on the guard to gauge their commercial viability. Though in demand, some of the new variants, including the ragi beer, are still not so quick off the keg compared to the wheat beer. “On an average if a tank of 1,000 litres of wheat beer takes about a week to empty, ragi beer takes longer,” said Mr. Parwani.

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