When the first of Bangalore’s microbreweries, Biere Club, opened just about a decade ago, I often found myself braving the city’s notorious weekend traffic for the city’s first watering hole that brewed its own beer. Biere Club may have heralded a new era of drinking and pub grub, but now the city has upward of 40 microbreweries with ten more at various stages of implementation. It’s no exaggeration to say the craft brew scene in Bangalore is exploding like a kombucha bottle left too long to ferment.
The landscape, ripe for experimentation, enables brewers to borrow elements from the spice-laden and flavor-rich south Indian culinary tradition and piquant tropical fruits. With deep-pocketed investors and a well-heeled population with a disposable income, Bangalore today is an exciting place for the brewer as much as it is for the craft beer lover. It may take a week of diligent pub-crawling to get to all of them, but if one were to pick and choose, these represent the cream of the crop in the longstanding liberal holdout of Bangalore.
Squatting in the city center where plush malls jostle for space with high-end retail stores and gourmet restaurants, Biere Club has moved on from just introducing craft beer to the average Bangalorean palate. The sprightly, Edinburgh-educated brewmaster Rohit Parwani tells me he is keen on bringing complex, malt-forward flavors to the craft beer drinker of Bangalore. There is no fixed beer on tap here and Parwani ensures a standard rotation of wheat beers, ales, and the occasional IPA. But the highly successful local brew here is the 70-percent finger millet (called ragi, locally) brew which I still haven’t had the opportunity to taste since it’s brewed only two times a year and sells out fast. “It’s made with roasted and malted organic ragi, consumes 14-hour workdays in the process, so a bit tedious,” Parwani says, explaining the reasons behind its rarity.Nevertheless, Biere Club’s experimental repertoire has left the hallowed airs of its brewery linger with extremely interesting flavors. Parwani oversaw a mango IPA once that was a blend of seven different kinds of Indian mangoes. His penchant for experimentation is a nod to homegrown flavors, and Biere Club’s taps have dispensed blends of earl gray and lemongrass, cucumber and coriander, and coconut. No other flavor screams South India like coconut.
Only a few blocks away—preferably a brisk walk rather than an infuriatingly slow tuk-tuk ride in the traffic in central Bangalore—will take you to Arbor. A franchise of the Ann Arbor-based brewpub, it embodies the spirit of a raucous neighborhood pub whose tobacco-laced air is filled with the joyous tumult of its beer-buzzed patrons. Since its inception in 2012, Arbor has been giving its patrons a taste of experimental, American-style IPAs. “So far we have done a hundred unique beer styles over time at the rate of pretty much one new brew every month,” Arbor’s managing director Guarav Sikka tells me. Sikka believes the market for IPAs is progressively growing in Bangalore, even as the youngish demographic is willing to chug anything he and his team brew, ranging from an aged mango maibock to a honey and lavender ale called Smooth Criminal. Bangalore’s yuppies and retirees rub shoulders at Arbor, signaling a trend where beer drinkers in the city who were used to mass-produced industrial beer have finally come of age.
Just about a couple of years old, Druid Garden is a relatively new entrant in Bangalore and the first in North Bangalore, responsible for democratizing the craft beer scene and taking it to the farther reaches of the city. Here brews Slovakian Lucas Zemberly, who took up the opportunity to move to Bangalore at the drop of a beer bottle as soon as it was offered. Druid Garden’s fixed taps serve a mix of European and American brews—Czech lager, the traditional German rauchbier, hefeweizen, Irish stout and American IPAs. With freedom left to experiment on the one rotational tap at the pub, Zemberly recently brewed up a seasoned spiced ale, throwing in cinnamon, ginger root, nutmeg, and cloves, which proved a hit. “The craft beer community is growing and spawning a breed of beer geeks in Bangalore,” Zemberly explains. To cater to their voracious tastes, he has plenty of flavor ideas in the works but only offers a sheepish smile when asked to give me a sampling.
The second outlet of the five-year old microbrewery Byg Brewski recently threw open its doors to the 2,000-seater facility in Hennur, Asia’s largest. The location in northeast Bangalore is a curious choice because it’s surrounded by up-and-coming neighborhoods like Kammanahalli, home to the city’s international students and expats employed in multinationals. With soft mood lighting and al fresco seating with direct view of the bright beer tanks, Byg Brewski feels like walking into a dreamy big-budget Bollywood set, tastefully designed for a romantic rendezvous. French Canadian brewer and self-proclaimed yeast geek Martin Bernard is at the helm of affairs at Byg Brewski. He oversees 24 taps dispensing anything from Belgian wheat to German lager to American IPAs to stouts.
Bernard is not sure what it is, but he cannot bring himself to brew hefeweizen just yet in his breweries in Bangalore. “When I brew Hefeweizen, I’m not getting the right banana profile it’s so known for,” he tells me. He is, however, very kicked about the beer he’s currently fermenting with kokum (a pink fruit, an indigenous variety of tamarind native to the region). “It’s a dark pink, dry beer,” he says. “Salty, sour, with a little bit of astringency.” All hallmark flavors of South Indian food.
Toit started operations in 2010, but owing to bureaucratic hurdles, its brewing license came through only in 2011, with Biere Club beating it to the race to become Bangalore’s first microbrewery. Right by the Indira Nagar subway station, Toit commands upward of 45 minutes of waiting time on weekends. It doesn’t deter me and I often end up waiting to get in for a sip of Toit’s Basmati Blonde Ale, a characteristically clean and easy-drinking ale with delicate notes of basmati rice. But that’s not what many others are drinking here. “If you consider our dry stout, it’s surprising that mostly women are drinking it. It’s really interesting to witness Bangalore’s beer drinking trend,” lead brewer Christopher Champalle, a French brewer who went to school at IBD London and worked in Montreal, tells me. According to Champalle the most interesting part of brewing in Bangalore is the unique ingredients he gets to play around with. He is currently brewing a jackfruit ale. “India’s very interesting relationship with food makes it a fertile playground for experimentation. The scope for brewing with local flavors sets the Indian craft beer scene apart from that of Europe or US,” he adds.
Windmills Craftworks, one of the city’s upper bourgeois brewpubs in the Bangalore suburb of Whitefield, has its target nailed right on its head. “Our demography is in the 30 to 35 age bracket, well-travelled folks who understand craft beer,” Ajay Nagarajan, Windmill cofounder and CEO, tells me, adding that 60 percent of the clientele is employed by corporations with nearby offices. Yet, among the brewery’s four permanent taps, hefeweizen is the top seller, clocking in at 60 percent of the total sales.
With a chic mahogany bookshelf crammed with hardbound books on architecture, photography, and culinary arts, and music performances in genres from jazz to Indian classical, Windmill seeks to set itself apart by blending the playfulness of a brewpub with the refinement of an upscale restaurant. I’d make the trek (via Uber, of course) from south Bangalore to Whitefield in a heartbeat for its Mango IPA, made with alphonso mangoes, or the summer favorite Watermelon IPA. Nagarajan also seems to pin his hopes on the hoppy but Champagne-like brut IPA, a global craft beer phenomenon that recently made its debut on the menu.
I had known Prost since it opened as the first microbrewery in the Koramangala neighborhood of south Bangalore, where most IT employees come home to roost after hours-long con-calls and spreadsheet-staring have sucked the life out of them. It’s a different scene now, with at least 20 other microbreweries in the area competing with Prost, but none commanding the benefit of Prost’s proximity to residential neighborhoods or its efficient service. The competition hasn’t deterred brewmaster Shamsunder MG, who has been brewing since 1992 and has worked with beer giants like UB group, SAB Miller, and Carlsberg. Cider is the best seller, he tells me, after Prost’s wheat beer, enticingly titled Bangalore Bolt.