Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Strange Brew - Beer tasting in Mumbai

There's a warning next to the lift, stating that the Sargent House is not responsible if bad things happen to those who travel in the lift, owing to its age. That's not a particularly heartening note on which to start drinking beer, and it made me wonder whether I might plummet to my doom or worse still, if the lift was a gateway to a secret hell, and that I'd get trapped in a Japanese horror flick. I scattered these thoughts aside as I entered Alex's flat, or rather, technically Dom Moraes' flat, which is still occupied by Leela Naidu and which has been let out to Alex and his girlfriend. Leela's proximity ensures that we didn't get to hear the story about Dom and the cigarettes, which one of our motley crew of beer tasters was about to tell us.

We began with the Hoegaarden (who-gar-den), a iconic Belgian White beer,made from a mixture of unmalted wheat and malted barley (Beer Demystified - for those wishing to dive deeper into beer).

Hoegaarden is served in a hexagonal glass, with rumour having it that it's shaped thus as it requires a spanner to prise the glass away from the addict's hand. The mystery ingredient in the beer is dried orange peel and coriander, which gives it a distinct citrusy note and a taste like nothing else. Hoegaarden is what is known as a bottle conditioned beer and undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Alex was quite confident that it would go very well with Indian food, I don't mind trying that, nor munching on a slice of orange while drinking my beer.

Alex's living room is a strange mixture of poetry and beer. The life of WH Auden mingles with Micro Brewing Technology. 6 packs of half opened never heard of beers are scattered around the room. There's even one called Flying Dog Ale, with a picture of a rabid dog on the carton and a Hunter S. Thompson quote -"good people drink good beer". I'm sure.

Alex and his girlfriend Molly are probably poster children for the great India story which we all hear, but which also seems to have attracted a lot of talented expats to our shores also. Molly is an American of German-Irish descent, who now teaches English essay writing skills to students in Japan from Navi Mumbai. She was back early, and had escaped peak traffic, and was rewarding herself with a pint of Hoegaarden, her favourite beer, which she was now delighted to see, was available in India. Alex is a little stranger. He's a Political Science graduate from UCLA and a Fulbright Scholar with a research scholarship devoted to developing markets in India. Alex followed up his interest in beer with a spate of professional qualifications in the field including a diploma in brewing technology.

We moved on to another Belgian beer, the Leffe Blond, a murky or dumb blonde! beer as Alex put it. Leffe has also been just introduced in India, and is a perfectly quaffable beer, with a distinct taste and a 800 year old heritage from the time it was first brewed in the Leffe Abbey.
Its distinct taste, combined with a 6.6% ABV will probably help win it a lot of friends in India.

We moved on from the Leffe to a beer inspired by a cycle trip through Belgium by Jeff Lebesch. He came back with some interesting recipes, which he worked on with a home brewing kit which he then grew into New Belgium Brewing Company, making some fine Belgian style ales, including what we were just drinking, the Fat Tire Amber Ale. Fortunately, Fat Tire, tasted better than it smelt (manure!), with the smell leading us to believe that Jeff had missed some crucial parts of the recipe! Somehow I don't think Fat Tire's going to go down well in India.

We had as company @ the table, Brent from the American Consulate, who introduced the next beer we were about to drink, as it was from his home state of Oregon, and named after the famous Rogue River, which flows through it (remember the movie, the River Wild?, it was filmed on the Rogue).

The first of the Rogue River Ales we turned our lips to was the Hazelnut Brown nectar, which as one of our crew pointed out tasted like bread crumbs which had been left in the bottom of the toaster for too long.

The next beer we drank was even more distinctive, a Porter, (a style of stout beer, named after porters in London who were the biggest consumers!) from Meantime Brewing Company in America.

What was amazing about all the beers which we had drunk (and were about to), was the vivid aromas and tastes, which conjured up a world millions of miles away from the everyday lagers we drink in India. The Meantime Porter smelt more like Coffee than most Starbucks stores I've entered, and backed it up with a coffee taste also! To add to its curiousity value was the wire cork enclosure for the bottle. The Meantime was quickly followed with a Chocolate Stout from Rogue Ales, which we accompanied with a couple of cubes of nutty chocolate, and it's a great pairing, if you ever get your hands on the Chocolate Stout, which was another winner for me, with a chocolatey aroma and taste.

We ended the tasting, with what was one of my favourites of the evening (along with the Porter and the Chocolate Stout and the Leffe and...), the Framboise, a raspberry flavoured beer, which tasted like alcoholic raspberry cream soda, and which had a genuine to god, champagne cork (and a champagne bottle). Molly served up generous slices of chocolate cake from Colaba;s Theobroma bakery, and we munched and quaffed, as we toasted the end of what had been a memorable evening. Now all that was left, was the cigarette story, but perhaps we'll leave that for another day (and beer!)


Vikram Achanta



Anonymous Make Your Own Beer said...

I do love me some Hoegaarden! It's a really good beer although it can be hard to find and be on the expensive side.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Sameer Khandelwal said...

You absolutely must try some Tripel Karmeliet. This is an award winning Belgian beer with a lovely aftertaste. I hear it's available in an odd pub in Bangalore, but I can't for the love of bier find it in Mumbai. If you do come across any restaurant's menu, do pass on the tip.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Hoegarden is really difficult to find. But my booze seller has it.also it was good to see them carrying Hoegarden,Stella,Peroni,Tsingtao,Asahi,XXXX Bitter,Tooheys,Murphy Isish,hieneken beers,etc.
Patel Wines @ Cuffe Parade is the place

7:26 PM  

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