Setting Up The Perfect Indian Craft Beer Tasting Session

With the arrival of so many new Indian Craft Beer labels after Bira, there are lots of brand to choose from. That’s a good problem to have right?

Well, right and wrong. Craft Beer is about variety and diversity. Logically, you’d expect a handful of different styles from each brand but that’s not entirely the case. Everyone seems to be releasing a Wit and a Blonde lager.

So how does one go about a basic tasting session at home? Choose as many different styles of Beer you can you get your hands on. Craft Beer is also about supporting local resources – raw materials, labor, infrastructure and so forth.

Belgian Beer Glassware, Chennai 2015

We have a variety of Indian Craft Beer labels now and even though not all of these Beers are being brewed in India, they eventually will be.

The basic rules of sampling have already been covered on the blog. I recommend you take a look at this section thoroughly before continuing with this post.

Pouring Belgian Beers, Chennai 2015

Make sure you have plenty of clean glassware. If you aren’t sure of what glassware to use, a White Wine glass does the job eloquently well. Have a few pitchers of water and empty jugs to clean glassware and palates.

White Wine Glass. Image Courtesy: The Internet

If you are doing a tasting only, keep some plain crackers and water handy as palate cleansers in between samples. If you have a few spare coffee beans, they can be used to cleanse nasal passages.

Each person should have a sampling sheet and pencil/pen besides them to. You may want to explain the parameters before the session starts. Remember this isn’t a contest but rather a fun event. There are no brownie points for nailing an aroma or flavor!

Beer Sampling Mat Courtesy: CraftBeer.com
Beer Sampler/Flight – Arbor Brewing Co

Beer Sampling Basics

https://talesoffroth.com/beer-styles/choosing-the-right-beer-sampling/

Beer Glassware Basics

https://talesoffroth.com/beer-styles/beer-glassware/

Beer Tasting Sheet Resources

https://cdn2.brewersfriend.com/brewersfriend_tastingparty.pdf

The Beers I’ve curated for the tasting session are in this order are:

  • White Owl – Ace Hybrid Cider Ale
  • White Rhino – German Style Helles Lager
  • Brindco/Hopper – Belgian Blonde Lager
  • Arbor Brewing Co – Easy Rider – American Style Wheat Ale
  • Kati Patang – Amber Ale
  • Goa Brewing Co – Eight Finger Eddie – NEIPA
  • White Rhino – IPA – Session IPA
  • Arbor Brewing Co – Beach Shack – American Session IPA
  • Simba – Stout

I have purposely missed out any typical Wheat based beers – no German style Hefeweizen or Belgian style Wit, so you and your guests can focus on different styles of beers. Each beer selected above is uniquely different even if it may fall within the same style. All of these Beers are those I would personally drink and recommend – JJ The Keg Approved!

The Beers selected above are available in Bangalore except the Kati Patang (Delhi),

Eight Finger Eddie, The Arbor Beach Shack & Easy Rider – (All available in Goa).

You can substitute these beers instead:

  • Simba Belgian Wit  – Beligan Wit
  • White Rhino Wit – Belgian Wit
  • White Owl Spark – Belgian Wit
  • White Owl Diablo – Irish Red Ale

Let’s go through each Beer from the first list and see what they have to offer. You can use these tasting notes as guidelines for the party you host.


Beer Reviews – What To Expect!

White Owl Ace – Cider/Ale Hybrid

4-5% ABV | IBU: Low | MRP 120 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)

Yes, this is a Beer. It’s a hybrid called a Graff. It’s a Cider & Ale recipe fused together. There is malt in this and hops too unlike a typical Cider which is a flavored fruit wine.

White Owl have used a nice champagne yeast for this cider that gives you a nice dry finish and plenty of carbonation.

Appearance

On the pour, you do get a bit of foam which does gets subdued in time. Golden in color, slightly hazy in appearance.

Aroma

On the nose, green apples and sweetness dominate the aroma profile.

Flavor & Mouthfeel

On the palate – crisp, slightly dry with a hint of sweetness backed by the apple flavor that dominates along with a slight bit of maltiness. Incredibly smooth with an enjoyable, dry finish. Low in bitterness.

Impression

A few brewpubs across the country, do ciders but very few get them right. Often they are too sweet, flat and lack that overall crispness, dryness and balance a good cider needs.

The Ace been balanced well and I think White Owl have done a fantastic job with this product. Priced at Rupees 120 (Karnataka), this Cider hybrid is easy on the palate and pocket.

White Owl have been hard at work since their beginnings as a brewpub in Mumbai and then moving into production. It’s always been a pleasure with their team especially their head brewer and owner.

I chose this hybrid as an Amuse Bouche – something to get the conversation going and palates activated.


White Rhino – Munich Helles Lager

4.8% ABV | IBU: 22 | MRP 160 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)


Appearance

Straw colored, crystal clear and pours with a white, rocky collar of foam. Excellent visible carbonation and head retention.

Aroma

On the nose, malts, slightly sweet and a hint of hop aroma – floral/spicy notes (especially on warming).

Flavor/Mouthfeel

Malt forward (bready) with a hint of sweetness ending in a slight bitter, hoppy finish. Light bodied, clean, smooth and crispy thanks to the abundance of carbonation.

Impression

The White Rhino Lager, is for a change full of character with its malty backbone and balanced hop profile coupled with excellent carbonation and head retention. It’s based of a German style Helles Lager.

This is one lager that will be sure to wow you and make you realize it’s refreshingly different. Pilsner malts coupled with a few noble hops – Magnum, Mittelfruh & Tettnanger.


Hopper – Belgian Blonde Lager

4.3% ABV | 15 IBU | MRP 200 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)

Appearance

Golden with excellent head retention and subsequent lacing with a fine, fluffy head. High on carbonation. There is no doubt, this is very well made lager.

Aroma

On the nose, malts dominate be it cold or warm – so typical of a lager. There is no contribution from the yeast here and you’ll have be a bloodhound to trace the noble Saaz hops used throughout the brewing process here.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

On the palate, clean , crisp, low in sweetness, light bodied with a slight bitter finish (nicely balanced). Not as bitter as a typical lager but easy drinking, hence definitely sessionable & versatile when it comes to pairing.

Impression

Not as hoppy as the White Rhino Lager but made to be easy to drink and light. Making a clean lager is no easy task and the subsidiary company under Indian Company Brindco, the brewery that brews Hopper, Brouwerij De Brabandere have done an excellent job. With over a 100 years of brewing experience, they produce one of the best Pilsners in Belgium, Bavik Super Pils. Wait for a detailed blog post on my visit to the Belgian brewery to understand why Hopper is an Indian brand to watch going forward.


Arbor Easy Rider – Wheat Ale

4.9% ABV | 10 IBU | MRP 95 Per 330 ml (Goa)

Appearance

Pours golden/amber in color but not as cloudy as what you get on tap at Arbor’s Brewpub in Bangalore. Simple explanation – Goa goes through a centrifuge for added stability. Bangalore is unfiltered hence cloudier. Carbonation is as expected with a frothy white head.

Aroma

You can smell the hops here. Remember this is NOT a German or Belgian Wheat – no banana, no clove, no coriander, no orange peel but instead a nice, pleasant fruity hop aroma, typical of an American style wheat ale.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

Lighter in body than the Easy Rider from Bangalore, slightly grainy with a nice flavorful bitter finish. Definitely sessionable.

Impression

Easy drinking and if I didn’t tell you this was a wheat based ale, you may have thought you were drinking a hoppy light ale or even a lager. This is Arbor India’s first attempt at packaging out of their Goa production brewery and they’ve done a great job.

A nice change from the Belgian Wits and German Hefes that have flooded the Indian market and definitely a style India should get used to.


Kati Patang – Zesty Amber Ale

4.8% ABV | 12-15 IBU | MRP 170 Per 330 ml (Delhi)

Appearance

Excellent Head retention and lacing – a delight to see. Gorgeous Amber color, great clarity & good carbonation.

Aroma

On the nose, caramel and nutty notes from the malt dominate with a fruity – citrus/Woody aroma from the hops used.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

Light to Medium bodied with a tinge of sweetness, caramel, nutty notes by the malt that’s well balanced by the hops in a short bitter finish. Definitely more on the malt forward side.

Impression

A delight on the palate – a very well made amber ale. The contract brewery in Bhutan does a great job making their own beers thanks to the excellent spring water in the country and the skills of the brewing team there.


Goa Brewing Eight Finger Eddie IPA

6% ABV | 30 IBU | MRP 110 Per 330 ml (Goa)

Appearance

Hazy/Cloudy golden almost amber in color. Pours with a nice fluffy persistent head. This beer is brewed along the lines of a NEIPA and although it doesn’t look like juice, it is called an Oat Cream IPA for a reason.

Aroma

On the nose, very NEIPA like with Citra dominating the show here after a double dry hopping run. You’ll get tropical fruit notes, mainly mango and hints of passion fruit, as well as a whiff of sweetness (I suspect this is from the malt and the added lactose). The aroma here is softer than piney/resinous bolder IPA’s you may have come across before.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

The aroma profile translates itself onto the palate – low in bitterness, juicy citrus/tropical fruit hop flavor, sweetness from the malt enveloped in a luscious creamy body that is medium in fullness. Not overly juiced like a traditional DDH (Double Dry Hopped) NEIPA and not as full body wise.

Impression

It’s a great effort from an Indian production Craft brewery to come out with something resembling a NEIPA – this is one style of IPA’s or rather PA’s (Pale Ales) that will work for India as it’s very low in bitterness but full of hop aroma and flavor without overwhelming your palate with too many aromatic oils or hop compounds.

For a country that is still in love with Wheat Beers, bottling an IPA as your first product in the market takes some Balls especially in Goa where you really don’t have an established Craft Beer community. Goa Brewing Co certainly has a pair!

With the Goa Brewing Founders at their Brewery in Goa

I certainly do hope these boys keep pushing and innovating with their next releases. The sneak peeks I’ve seen are brilliant. Go Goa Brewing Co!


Arbor Beach Shack – Session IPA

6% ABV | 55 IBU | MRP 120 Per 330 ml (Goa)

Appearance

Definitely clearer thanks to the centrifuge and slightly darker (deep amber) than what is served at the Arbor Brewpub here in Bangalore. Head retention, carbonation are the same – both good.

Aroma

You get a burst of C hops as you crack open the can. Resinous goodness mixed in with fruity undertones, citrus, slight floral notes. Very similar to the Brewpub but a bit more resinous and certainly more intense.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

Slightly lighter in body but it has that same sessionable hop bitterness and flavor with a nice malty backbone. Medium finish with a slight lingering bitterness just like at the Brewpub.

Impression

Overall, a little lighter than the Brewpub but essentially the same beer using the “same” recipe. The body maybe a tinge lighter but for some reason the canned Beach Shack seems to have a higher amount of perceived bitterness and thus more hop forward than the version served in Bangalore at Arbor’s brewpub.

Designed to be a sessionable American IPA, this is exactly what this is despite being higher in ABV and IBU that the textbook definition of sessionable but it works!

At Arbor Brewing’s Goa Brewery

Hop Heads & Beach Shack IPA fans will not be disappointed! India’s first American Craft Brewery and now Production Craft Brewery delivers with every sip. One of my favorite brewpubs in India and now favorite IPAs in a can!


White Rhino IPA

6.3% ABV | 40 IBU | MRP 190 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)

Apperance

On opening, you get a nice bit of smoke. Amber colored and pours well with plenty of clean whispy foam and is hazy, as expected. Good head retention and carbonation.

Aroma

The aroma you can literally smell a mile away. A combination of European and American hops make this Beer smell amazing. You can smell the American C hops in this one – resin & pine as well as tropical fruits galore – pineapple, mango and if you think hard enough lychee. 

You can smell this beer for hours. I would bathe in this. That’s how delightful it is on the nose!

Flavor/Mouthfeel

Nicely balanced, medium bodied with those juicy hops coming through with a nice bitter finish that doesn’t last too long but it’s there.

Impression

For India this is what we need to teach people what hops are. I’m a firm believer in balance – hop as much as you want but balance it out with a healthy grain bill to reduce perceived bitterness. This is definitely one of the best bottled IPA’s in India, at present – no doubt!

Well done Team White Rhino!

With Ishaan Puri – Founder Of White Rhino

Simba Stout

4-5% ABV | IBU | MRP 130 Per 330 ml (Karnataka)

Appearance

Simply not as dark as other Stouts. It pours with a creamy off white head. Head retention and carbonation are fine – as expected for this style.

Aroma

On the nose, coffee dominates supported by toffee, caramel and hints of dark chocolate.

Flavor/Mouthfeel

These flavors transpose themselves to the palate as well as roasted grains. Smooth and creamy mouthfeel but a lot lighter in body than most other stouts with a low bitter finish.

Impression

That’s perfectly fine as being lighter in body simply means this stout is more on the sessionable side. For India, this works because most people can’t handle full bodied beers. Batches have varied with some being sweeter than the other but I think over time, Simba have gone back to the version described here. They’ve done a great job for India’s first bottled Craft Stout.

Simba Delhi Launch Invite
With Simba’s Ishwaraj Singh Bhatia, at Drink Tech Mumbai 2018

In Closing

I’ve been waiting for the last five years to be able to write a blog post such as this where we, the Beer drinking public can actually conduct an Indian Craft Beer tasting session in the comfort of our homes.

Previously, we were restricted to consuming on site at brewpubs or limited Indian Craft Beer labels and varieties but no longer are we being held captive.

I’d encourage all of you to at some point in your Beer drinking journeys to host or participate in a tasting session. They are a lot of fun and educative at the same time. Start embracing different styles BESIDES Wheat Beers! Brewers across the country are indeed FED UP of brewing them over and over again. Expand your horizons, embrace hops and don’t forget to support your local breweries and Craft Beer labels. Attend events, festivals, workshops and share your experiences online on Social Media or on groups such as Friends Of Froth (click to be sign up).

It’s been a while a while since I spent a few days writing an extensive blog post such as this one. I hope all of you enjoyed reading this!

Cheers & Stay Frothy!

JJ The Keg


All Images Courtesy: Tales Of Froth Unless Otherwise Specified

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