Friday, February 13, 2015

My stint as brewmaster at Craftworks in Bangalore is coming to an end and I'll be moving on. It sure has been interesting ride - challenging, rewarding, frustrating and everything in between. In my three and a half years in India I put together one of the sweetest most efficient brewery's to be found anywhere and was around long enough to really make it sing - something that's a little more difficult to do in the developing world. I made about 150 thousand liters of beer (it sounds like more than it really is). A lot of which I'm very proud of. Beers that would hold their own alongside some of the best the U.S. and Europe has to offer. I made some beer styles that have never been brewed in India before, most notably Rauchbier. After brewing so much German-style Hefeweizen, I really came to understand the style and consequently, brew a better example of it. I educated a lot of folks on just how good beer can be, made a few converts and even more friends along the way. On March 6th I will pass the brew-paddle to my very able assistants, Shaan and Amit and expect them to keep the standards high and the beer flowing. Thanks so much for all appreciation and support I received while here! Cheers!

What's Next
I'll chill in the U.S. for a bit and hopefully spend a lot more time on my favorite little island in Maine. I will concentrate on reviving my brewery start-up consulting business - for the past 20 something years I've specialized on Asian projects, opening breweries in Japan, Hong Kong, Macau and Manila. I will probably focus most on India going forward. If you are a prospective brewery owner with funding, a location and looking for help, my contact information is in the "about me" section of the side bar. But keep in mind, it's always best when I'm involved early, before all the decisions are made. This invariably gets the client a better, smarter, more economical brewery and one I have a much easier time getting up and running with world-class beer. 

I'll try and keep the blog updated with new brewery openings in Bangalore, Craft Brewers Association of India news and of course, if I find myself working on other projects in India, I'll pick up where I left off.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The New Hop Crop is in da House

Hop Gathering by Samuel Ireland circa 1793

It’s taken a little longer than I expected but all of the new crop hops that I ordered are finally here. With the global hop shortage and yearly scramble for the most desirable varieties still going strong, I’d say Craftworks did very well indeed. We have hops that many craft brewers in the US were unable to get - Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, Amarillo Centennial and Saaz. So “Bangalorean hopheads” rejoice. It will be a very hoppy year. The first beer pouring with the new crop will be a classic American-style Pale Ale finished exclusively and dry hopped with type 45 Cascade. Most brewers use and only have experience with type 90 hops. The 45’s are supercharged - twice as concentrated because the hop cones are stripped of the stems and outer leaves prior to processing into pellets. This makes for a more uniform pellet with much more lupulin (oil) and alpha acid (bitterness potential) or in other words, flavor. I liken it to the increased polishing rice goes through to make the higher grades of sake like Ginjo and Daiginjo. This analogy is particularly apt for me because it was in Japan many years ago while working as a brewery start-up consultant, that I first discovered and fell in love with type 45 hops...

I don't get out of Bangalore nearly enough. I blame it on the terrible traffic, not having a car of my own or just simply the amount of time and effort it takes to get anywhere good. But recently I got around all those excuses and found myself in Kombai, Tamil Nadu for a couple of days of hiking and mountain biking with my good friends Naveen and Pei. To say I wasn't a little bit sore when I got back to town would be a lie. The ice cold Craftworks Hefeweizen I brought along and polished off after a long strenuous hike, sure hit the spot...

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Franconian Foray

Not too long ago I was in Germany for BrauBeviale, a brewing industry trade show that takes place in Nürnberg and a little beer hunting in Bamberg. I also had the pleasure to tour the Weyermann Malting Co. and attend a really great party there. BrauBeviale is a nice contrast to the American Craft Brewers Conference and as you would expect, a good opportunity to discover European brewing supplies, manufactures and equipment that is not well known in the American market. There was an abundance of excellent complementary beer on the trade floor and many vendors cooked up sausages for hungry attendees.

Brewery-fresh, Self-serve Pilsner Urquell complements of the Mueller Co.

Nürnberg is an attractive town. It’s hard to believe it was so heavily bombed in WWII. Here is a good pub/brewery guide for those making the trip. Sadly the Andechs Wirtshaus at the Deutscher Kaiser hotel was closed. A real blow for me as Andechs is one of my favourite German breweries. I sure felt cheated out of a few liters which I did my best to make up for on an excellent pub crawl with Frau Lang from Rhön-MalzWe made one pub discovery - Nürnberger Alm completely by chance, just walking by and as as it turned out, they had the best selection of beer that I found in the city. The wild boar with dumpling plate I had to eat was pretty damn tasty too.

At the European Beer Star awards tasting

Bamberg, with it’s World-Heritage city center was all I hoped it would be and more. Drinking Rauchbier (smoked beer) at the source is really the only way to experience it at it’s best (see an earlier post for more info). The bottles of Schlenkerla that I brought back to Bangalore were something of a disappointment. I guess it just doesn’t fare well in the bottle. The Ungespundetes (unfiltered kellerbier) at the cozy Spezial Brauerei pub on the other hand was probably my favourite and most memorable beer of the trip. Honorable mentions to Andechs Helles, Forsthaus Templin Bock - both on the Brau trade floor and Löwenbräu Weissbier at the brewery in Buttenheim. It was here that I had the pleasure to meet Hans Modschiedler - a brewmaster and early pioneer in bringing craft beer to India at the now defunct  Rockman Beer Island brewpub in Gurgaon. It’s sad this one didn’t survive. I’m sure the beers brewed by his hand were the “real deal” and quite good!

The best beer of the trip at the Special Brauerei

The original malt extract evaporator at the Weyermann Malting Co.

While it’s a little late, best wishes for a hoppy and prosperous New Year to all! My crystal ball is hinting at change, opportunity and an exciting year.

Craftworks News
  • A new batch of Stout is on-tap and this one is really tasty.
  • I’ve revamped the Golden Ale because we just don’t have the extra 4-5 days that it takes to dry-hop this beer. Rather than just try and “pull a fast one” we are calling it what it is, a new beer - Helles Ale. As the Golden was an Ale version of a Pilsner, the new beer is an Ale version of a Helles (German for light) lager. But rest assured there is still a pretty good hop smack and it’s still finished exclusively with the best quality Czech Saaz hops.

Friday, November 28, 2014

It's Beer Season

The brewhouse at Big Pitcher

Now that we are past the the annual brewery license renewal date (July), we have several new breweries in Bangalore with beer flowing (see the updated side bar). This brings the total number of brewpubs to 17! The reason for the sudden explosion is that the excise department (regulator of micro breweries) doesn't pro-rate the license fee and the 50% advance payment for excise duty on annual capacity. In other words, open a brewery in June and you will be required to pay a years worth of fees for one month of operation only to pay another years fee a month later in July. It's not really the right way to go about licensing new breweries but it is what it is. 

On a more optimistic note, representatives from all of Bangalore's craft breweries met with the excise department to voice our concerns over unfair and vague regulations. I'm happy to report that we met with some success. No longer will annual capacity be defined by the size of your brew kettle x 365 - none of Bangalore's craft brewers, brewed everyday anyway. It will now be the total volume of all fermentation tanks x 21 (half way between the number of days it takes to produce an ale and a lager). This makes much more sense and most brewers will benefit from the new approach. The exception will be breweries where fermentation capacity far exceeds sales. Moral of this story - build a brewpub in Karnataka, size it right. This should also curb the installation of tiny brewhouses where it takes multiple batches to fill a fermenter - which is just a silly and inefficient way to do things in a brewpub - and something the old definition promoted. From a regulatory point of view, this now makes Karnataka the best place in India to open a brewpub. Maharashtra allows for off premiss sales (something we have to work on in Karnataka) but the production cap is too low and the taxes are too high there.

Craftworks News
The roof-top beer garden is open! We will be serving three beers on-tap from a special keg-cooler that was flown in from the US. This keeps the beer lines short and beers tasting as they should. The food is all North Indian style (my favourite) buffet. Hopefully this extra capacity will make it a bit easier for folks to actually get in. Winterfest - our special holiday ale, is fermenting away and slated for release by December 5.

Craft Brewers Association of India News
Things have been moving slowly but surely. The group last met at Big Brewsky earlier this month. The association changed it's name to The Craft Brewers Association of India to avoid confusion with another group. Our non-profit status has been established with the state and all other requirements are well under way. Our logo has been finalized and the website is up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

At The Craft Brewers Conference

I recently returned from Denver where I attended the Craft Brewers Conference. It was quite the gathering of brewers, suppliers and manufacturers. This was also a World Beer Cup competition year. While the conference is a yearly event, the competition is biannual. I was pleased to be one of the 219 judges to select the best beers from a staggering 4754 entries that hailed from 1403 breweries in 58 countries. In categories that ranged from Berliner Weisse to Barley Wine. India had four participating breweries, all from Bangalore (Arbor, Biere Club, Toit & Windmills Craftworks) and while none received any awards, it was good to see the country represented. A complete list of winners can be found here. I highly recommend sampling any of these great beers in their home towns when traveling to taste them at their best.

As I missed the last two conferences, this was a great opportunity for me to catch up with lots of old friends, sit in on a few technical seminars, visit some amazing breweries and drink some truly stunning beer. The most memorable were Sierra Nevada’s Ovila on-tap at Falling Rock Alehouse, New Belgium's La Folie in pre and post soured versions at the Brewery and the gold medal winning Kellierbier (Pils) from New Mexico's Marble Brewery in a final-round judging session. I haven't been to Denver in a while so discovering the Belgian beer bar Cheeky Monk was as much a pleasure as the draft Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus I tasted there. Many Colorado breweries are making world-class beer these days and have long since outgrown their micro beginnings and are now large regional producers.

A bit-o wood at New Belgium

One of my favorite seminars of the conference was put on by the German glass manufacturer Spiegelau where beer was sampled and compared in their beer style-specific glassware to that in a standard shaker pint. The difference was pretty remarkable. I was especially impressed with their newish Stout glass. I'll be writing more about these in a future post that deals with tasting in greater depth but one thing I found was that not only did Left Hand's wonderful nitrogenated Stout taste better in this glass, all beer tasted better in it! And if that wasn't enough, Spiegelau very generously gifted six glasses to all attendees.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Craft Brewers Association of India is Formed

Last week representatives from six different Bangalore breweries met and formed the Brewers Association of India. Some of the goals of this new organization are to promote craft beer, lobby the State for more liberal laws, share helpful information, socialize over a few beers and possibly the staging of a group beer festival. The next CBAI meeting will take place Wed. Nov. 6th, 5 PM at the Biere Club. Commercial brewers (including those in planning) and allied trade companies that are interested in joining the CBAI can contact me for details.

Craftworks Beer News

  • A new (white) IPA is on-tap. It's a bit lighter than our standard IPA and brewed with 32% wheat. All this makes for a refreshing beer that still has a pretty good "hop smack".
  • The next batch of Oatmeal Stout is fermenting away. This one was intentionally made a little lighter and drier.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Craft Brewing Scene Heats Up

The Brewsky crew at their soon-to-open JP Nagar location

Bangalore is already India's craft brewing capitol and things are about to get more interesting as several new breweries come on-line. The importers of Geist have two brewpubs called Brewsky launching soon. One in JP Nagar and the other in Sarjapur. A new brewpub called Three Monkeys is going into the Gopalan Mall and they have already lost their first brewer. Both the Bier Club and Punjabi by Nature have new branches opening soon in Whitefield and Prost in Kormangala is now pouring. Toit has plans for a second location and will see two new breweries "bookend" them on 100 Foot Rd. One is part of the Vapour chain and I don't know much about the other. One thing I do know is that these newcomers will have to be good to compete with Toit. A 5HL German system has just been installed in the Sheraton Hotel. And I've even heard rumors of a brewpub going into the Inorbit mall, just down the street from Craftworks. I say the more the merrier but prospective brewery owners should consider that it's not easy to brew great beer - as some have already found out - and it's not an inexpensive business to get into. One would be well served by looking into the regulations before getting too far. Most states in India still do not yet allow brewpubs or microbreweries. The few that do and what I know of the regulations are:

Karnataka - Brewpubs only. 50% of installed capacity paid yearly in advance at the rate of 17Rs./liter. Wholesaling of kegs is not allowed. This is a major impediment to growing a small successful brewery especially for start-ups with less than ideal locations. One can only hope that things will improve but considering the difficulty that all of the existing breweries experienced this year in just renewing their license, I'm not very hopeful...

Maharashtra - Brewpubs & micros. Maximum production of 200,000 liters per year (way too low!). Wholesaling of kegs is possible but with the low production cap, hardly worth the trouble.

Haryana - Maximum production of 700,000 liters per year.

Goa - Brewpubs & micros allowed. 90% of yearly installed capacity paid in advance at varying tax rates, with the highest being 28 Rs./liter for brewpubs and 31 Rs./liter for micros depending on alcohol content and retail cost per 650ml. Way too complex and expensive!

West Bengal - Brewpubs only.

Punjab - Brewpubs & micros. Maximum production of 700,000 liters per year.

The Brewhouse at Toit

The process of opening a small brewery in all of these states is far from easy. The regulations are cumbersome and poorly thought-out. Taxation is excessive and most states want a large percentage of the excise tax paid in advance - which is the wrong approach. What the states should do is collect a "brewers bond" once from each brewery when a license is applied for - as is the case in many other countries. This bond would roll over from year to year if there is compliance and proper payment of tax and seized if not. Taxes should be paid quarterly and based on beer racked to serving tanks or kegs from fermentation tanks. The excise department should also inspect breweries for compliance and audit the books unannounced periodically. 

While there are many obstacles to opening a brewery in India, poor infrastructure also makes it a more expensive proposition than it is in many other countries that have reliable power, good water supplies and sewage treatment plants. A considerable sum will have to be spent to remedy these deficiencies. Some other considerations - malt takes three months to get here from Europe, is taxed excessively and with the rupee tumbling, getting quite expensive. There is a global shortage of the choicest hops making them difficult or impossible to obtain. And last but certainly not least, it can be difficult to recruit a talented brewmaster - the guy (or gal) who is responsible for beer quality and on whose shoulders the brewery's reputation rests.

Craftworks Beer News

  • Porter is back on-tap and will replace Stout for a short while.
  • A new batch of IPA is on-tap. I used Warminster Maris Otter malt in this one instead of Wyermann Pale Ale malt. The consensus is good.
  • Our 50th brew will be on-tap soon, an extra special Anniversary Ale (ESB) to commemorate our first year of operations!