The air is tense with anticipation and malt. Amid hulking, shiny new equipment, Rangaraju Narayanaswamy and his master brewer, Suryakant Singh, test a freshly made ale, quietly appreciating its sparkle and heady scent. They are justifiably proud of the result: It has been a long, challenging road, with hurdles at every turn.
The Catamaran Brewing Company finally opens this weekend in Puducherry. As the first microbrewery in the Union Territory, and the closest one to Chennai, there is a lot riding on this launch.
As he walks through its spacious, shadowy interiors — a cool respite from the blazing tropical heat and tangled traffic outside — Rangaraju explains how he and his business partner Durgaprasad Radhakrishnan began working on the project in 2017. “With Pondy being a touristy place, we felt that it would be good for the town to have this. We began to apply for licenses, and were given a go ahead in 2019.”
They brought in Oliver Schauf, credited with being one of the catalysts of the craft beer revolution in India, as a brewing consultant and began work on the blends. Then, the pandemic struck.
Nevertheless, between lockdowns and at their homes, brainstorming continued, and slowly things began to fall into place.
Suryakant, who moves between the brewing equipment with practised ease in practical blue Crocs, points out that while they use imported malt and hops, to get the structure of the ales right, they also add fresh ingredients from the local market, from oranges to coriander.
Right now, the 6,500 square foot brewery offers five beers on tap, all freshly made.
The best of these is their Indian Summer, which has a refreshing sweetness zesty with flavours of citrus, and an echo of chamomile. They also offer a light bodied Pondi Pilsner, which has a grassy aroma and sweet malty character.
If you are in the mood for something stronger, try their dark lager, the Vox Populi, crisp with notes of caramel and toffee. The smoky Yuri G’s drink pays tribute to a London brewer, who in 1722 created a fresh brewed ale which quickly became known as the ‘working man pint of choice’ for its familiar flavours of caramel, molasses and coffee.
As he pours out the final sample, a cider, Rangaraju explains how their brewing consultant Oliver popularised apple cider in India in 2009, after he set up Doolally in Pune.
After multiple trials, Oliver tweaked his recipe for the Indian palate, creating a hard apple cider. The version at Catamaran Brewing is surprisingly heady, for a cider, exuberant with the aroma of apple orchards.
Targeted at tourists and locals alike, the menu attempts to offer a little bit of everything from Pan Asian food to ‘modern South Indian’: chilli cheese wontons, podi fried idlis, chicken ghee roast with neer dosa, pulled pork with pita…
Of course, in keeping with the theme, there will also be beer bread, beer cheese dips and even a ‘beer rasam pani puri.’
Is this likely to trigger a craft beer revolution in our neck of the woods? Rangaraju shrugs, “Well, I have heard that two more places are being planned, but it takes so long to put it together…”
He adds, fingers crossed, “for this year at least, in this part of the country, we will be the only one.”
The Catamaran Brewing Company is at 35 Anna Salai, Puducherry.