Ever since Bira has hit the Indian market, it’s been a cult hit across the country specifically in metros where the brand’s strategy, marketing and branding have worked wonderfully well. They have succeeded in convincing lager drinkers to try other styles, which is a great achievement.
Contract brewed initially in Belgium, batches were well made. Then in early 2017 the switch to contract brewing in India was made. Initial batches were sub par and needed a lot of tweaking. Bira took feedback constructively and made batch improvements particularly for the Bira White (Belgian style Wit), which remains a crowd favorite. The Blonde whilst palatable tastes similar to other lagers.
The other variants, their Lite and Strong are Bira’s push to target customers who don’t typically drink Beer (Bira Lite -calorie conscious) and the strong is Bira taking on the macrobreweries in the strong beer segment in an attempt to gain market share in tier 2 cities and so forth. Both of these products are solid.
What we were all quite excited about is their latest release – the Bira IPA. If you truly are a seasoned Beer Geek, or brewer (pro or amateur), you understand the love affair with hops and why hoppy beers are top of our lists when it comes to favorites. It’s a sacred style that leaves no room for blunders. In other words, bring out an IPA and we’ll bring out a magnifying glass.
The British gave us Pale Ales and then the IPA (India Pale Ale), and since they left our country there hasn’t been an Indian owned brand that has made an IPA until now.
What is an IPA?
If you didn’t already know Pale Ales were being made in the UK and then exported to India. The sea voyage and length of passage and extreme climate conditions didn’t sit well with these pale ales and several arrived in India infected and stale (oxidized).
Brewers in London and Burton On Trent realized that increasing the alcohol content and adding high quality hops would help preserve these beers better during their passage to India. This new style of Pale Ale conditioned well during the journey and was well received by the English troops and officials stationed in India. They simply called this Beer the “India Pale Ale” – the pale ale destined for India.
Since then the style has evolved and there are several variations for Pale Ales and India Pale Ales. Let’s take a look at the base guidelines for this style according to the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program). A Craft Brewer can build upon the base style and create something new however that base needs to be there for the beer to be called “true to style”
In general Pale Ales and the IPA are hop forward beers where the hops take the center stage, nothing else. A measure of the quality of these Beers is determined not only by the flavor and aroma profiles but by the quality of the ingredients used, as well.
Loosely defined as a type of beer that is brewed with mostly pale malts for a more equal malt-to-hop ratio. The greater amount of pale malts causes the beer to have a lighter color and flavor.
Commercial Examples – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has to be the definition of this style amongst several others.
Pale Ale IBU Range: 20-50
(The range covers everything from a Best Bitter to a Belgian Pale Ale to an American Pale Ale)
A pale ale brewed to an increased gravity and hop rate. Modern versions of English IPAs generally pale in comparison (pun intended) to their ancestors. Generally will have more finish hops and less fruitiness and/or caramel than English pale ales and bitters. Fresher versions will obviously have a more significant finishing hop character. English hops typically used have floral/herbal/grassy characteristics.
Commercial Examples – Shepherd Neame IPA, Meantime India Pale Ale, Thornbridge Jaipur etc.
An American version of the historical English style, brewed using American ingredients and attitude. Typically higher in Bittering Units and American Hops can give off a variety of flavor and aroma profiles typically citrusy, floral, resinous, piney or fruity aspects. Some of these IPAs have a strong malt backbone that balances out bitterness resulting in a softer, smoother perceived level of bitterness.
Commercial Examples – Stone IPA, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Lagunitas IPA, Brewdog’s Punk IPA.
IBU Range for both English and American IPA: 40-70
Typical ingredients for Pale Ales & IPA
Base Malts, Speciality Malts, Hops (Single Hops or a several varieties), Ale Yeast and Water (Brewing salts such as sulfates may be added during the Burtonization process to create the right water profile for this style)
True Craft Beers do not have added flavors, colors or adjuncts. The whole idea of Craft Beer is to create hand crafted Beers using premium ingredients without any short cuts.
Hop Characteristics and Flavors
Hops from various parts of the world have different bittering, flavor and aroma profiles depending on the terroir.
Generally speaking these are typical Hop Aromas & Flavors:
Let’s take a look at Bira’s IPA now that we’ve covered the basics of what a Pale Ale and IPA is.
Interesting label color. My interpretation – Purple signifying the British Raj – Royalty/Regal.
What’s interesting to note is the name – IPA – Indian Pale Ale NOT India Pale Ale. Perhaps this is reference to the fact that this is being made in India or maybe this is a new class of Beers?
Brewer’s Gold Snob Edition – What on earth is this in reference to?
My interpretation – This indicates that this IPA should be top class and of the caliber that professional brewers would be proud of – perhaps?
Water, Barley Malt, Wheat, Hops, Yeast, Sugar, Natural Flavoring.
This is where alarm bells start to go off – why do you need added sugar and what is natural flavoring? Define “natural” flavoring. This is where you start to question whether this product is Craft.
I’ve spent enough time at craft breweries, parsed through recipes and spent time brewing with brewing teams, spend hours discussing IPAs with brewers and fellow hop heads. Flavors and sugar are 2 ingredients I’ve never come across for IPAs.
Sugar and natural flavoring – you’re cutting costs on ingredients – hops and malt by using these as substitutes and they will affect the flavor profile.
Let’s crack open this IPA and see what we find shall we?
We used a Teku Glass for this – specifically designed for IPAs to bring out the complete bouquet of aromas and to give you good support for a proper foam/froth head. This Beer was taste tested with a group of pro-brewers who make Craft IPAs for a living at one of Bangalore’s top 10 brewpubs.
Bira Indian Pale Ale – 6-8% ABV | 26 IBU | MRP 120 (330ml – Karnataka)
Pours with a dense white foam head and is amber/light copper colored. High (vigorous)carbonation with fast rising bubbles and good head retention. No chill haze. This beer is crystal clear indicating that the Beer has been filtered.
No noticeable hop aroma that were detected. However there were malty, sugary notes and what appeared to something similar to grape (white grape) must and slightly perfumy. We also detected papery (wet cardboard) notes that you normally find when you get an oxidized Beer. You also get a whiff of alcohol on the nose.
Malty and slightly sweet, medium bodied, crispy with a short bitter finish. The bitterness here reminded us what a typical Indian Strong Lager produces as did the sweetness. Hard to believe this is 26 IBU. This tastes more like something that is in the 15 IBU range.
Overall Impression – 2/5
Indians are not used to hop bitterness and we love our wheat beers – no worries. So even if this beer resembled a Pale Ale in terms of its bitterness and flavor profile, I would have said well done however this is definitely not the case.
There is no connection to a Pale Ale let alone an IPA here. This is a flavored beer masquerading as an IPA and in short – a botched attempt.
Keeping this aside, in terms of the flavor profile, it’s nothing great. Even if this was marketed as something else, you won’t see me buying this.
This is definitely NOT a Craft IPA nor is it a Craft Pale Ale or even a commercial IPA nor a Pale Ale.
What this is a strong beer with flavorings with no detectable hop aroma or character and should be marketed as so . Maybe re-labeled as The Bira Aromatic Ale?
Sorry Bira, this has to be one of the worst releases thus far – you’ve obviously screwed up somewhere either in the recipe design or during the brewing process and this product simply shouldn’t have been launched. The recipe needs to be reworked with proper aroma and flavor hops including a dry hopping process to give you the right flavor and aroma profile of an IPA or even a Pale Ale.
Rs. 120 for a 330ml bottle here in Karnataka seems value for money but let’s cut the BS, Hops are expensive and IPAs are expensive to make.
I would rather spend Rs 200-250 on a quality IPA made with the right ingredients, without shortcuts and without the extra labeling BS and it needs to at least 40 IBU.
I’d hate for the public to assume that an IPA tastes like this because that is simply not the case.
Update – Just to be fair, I taste tested this Beer again on September 03, this time in the privacy of my own home, having a clean palate and found the same notes – personally no cardboard aromas/flavors but the same high alcohol, sweetness and grape like aroma, no detectable hop aroma and the bitterness being cut by the excessive sweetness. In short once again, it tasted like a flavored strong Beer that you find commonly in the Indian market.
It just seems like the hops used here were either:
- Not the right type – You need dual purpose or aromatic hops for a Pale Ale/IPA
- Not used in the right quantity
- Not of the right quality – old or oxidized hops don’t perform.
Sorry Monkey – Please go back to the drawing board for this one!
Folks reading this, please go out to a local microbrewery that serves beers that are true to style Try an IPA or Pale Ale – take a few notes of the flavor and aroma profile. Try some imported British and American Pale Ales or IPAs. Make notes. For guidance on sampling check the footnotes below.
Then go out and buy this IPA and see how it stacks up and let me know what your feedback is.
Cheers and Stay Hoppy!
JJ The Keg
All Images Courtesy: Tales Of Froth & As Indicated
Further Reading on Bira:
- Bira 91 – The Brand – December 2015
- Bira 91- The Beers – December 2015
- Bira 91 – Update (News) – November 2016
- Bharat’s Bira (Indian variants)- February 2017
- Bira’s Back (Improved batches) – March 2017
- New Bira Light & Strong – June 2017
How To Sample:
Find Bira on the Web: