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India. Cheers to fruit beers!

Microbreweries are pushing the envelope when it comes to developing unique flavoured brews — experimenting with fruits such as jackfruit and kiwi.

2016-09-26_11h04_02Even as microbreweries gear up to showcase special brews to celebratethe upcoming Oktoberfest, most regulars at city breweries would have noticed a range of interesting specials - mostly, fruit-infused. Whether it's Toit's Mosambi wheat beer or The Biere Club's Orangina, or Brewsky's Pineapple basil ale, city brewers came up with some unusual combinations celebrating local and seasonal produce. Globally, flavoured brews are fairly common, especially in Belgium, but in India, only a few microbreweries have been experimenting with it on a regular basis. Then, in June, the Craft Brewers Association of India (a collaboration of brewery owners and brewers to promote the industry in Bengaluru as well as other cities) organised an Indie Brew festival for which several microbreweries in the city came up with experimental fruit flavours.

Flavoured beer finds favour

Talking about how beer drinkers in India are still getting used to the bolder, hoppier (bitter) flavours of craft beer, Ajay Nagarajan, CEO of Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield reveals that most prefer a milder beer like the Hefeweizen. "The Hefeweizen is a fruity refreshing ale that has hints of banana and clove and probably adds up to 50 per cent of the craft beer sold in India. Building on this trend, a lot of breweries are experimenting with fruit-infused ales. Also, these ales are a hit with women who otherwise would stay away from beers."

The Biere Club developed Orangina Lager and Kiwi Saison for the CBAI Indie Brew (fruit beer edition). But they have been adding interesting ingredients such as jaggery, strawberry, chocolate, blackcurrant, Alphonso mangoes, etc., for years now."The CBAI Indie brew project is a way for us at the CBAI to showcase the craft culture of beer to anyone who wants to drink a glass of beer, novices to connoisseurs alike," says Rohit Parwani, Head Brewer, The Biere Club, adding, "A fruit-based beer caters to a majority of the population, owing to the fact that it is easy to drink and creative, so to speak. People are always looking for something new and brewing fruit-based beers is a way to keep that novelty alive."

The fact that there's a wide variety of seasonal fruits available at low cost, as Logan Schaedig, head brewer, Arbor Brewing Company,points out, it's only natural to add them to beer.

Picking the right fruit

When it comes to choosing what kind of fruit to use, Parwani describes the process as "fairly intuitive". "In my opinion, if you are audacious enough, there's no fruit that can't be used." Case in point, Toit's jackfruit ale which was introduced earlier this year. Arun George, one of the co-owners of the popular Indiranagar brewery, says, "As per our research no one has ever developed jackfruit-infused ale before. With a subtle jackfruit flavour, it appealed to those who are fond of the fruit and it sold really quickly as well." In the past, they've also done a Pumpkin Ale for Halloween and Passion Potion (with passion fruit) for Valentine's Day.

According to Nagarajan, fruits that have a significant sourness/tartness are difficult to use as the yeast eats up all the sugar and leaves the sourness behind. "This sourness unless it's in sweet Belgian Ale does not pair well with the bitter hops. Hence, sweet fruits like mango, watermelon or pineapple work. Also, some of the aroma hops exhibit tropical fruit flavours like passion fruit, guava, orange peel, lemon and pineapple. Any fruits that complement these hops work well," he explains.

Arbor creates new beers at least once a month, Schaedig says,and they frequently check to see which fruits are in season and whether they would like to use it. "Being an American style brewpub, our list of fruit beers is quite vast including Strawberry Blonde, Mojito Beer, Pomegranate Pilsner, Tamarind Wheat, and most recently, we added plums to our Phat Abbot Tripel that is aging in a whiskey barrel." Aging beer in barrels is a traditional way of storing and transporting beer. "In modern times, we are reviving this method of aging to lend natural sourness to the beer. Particularly in Belgium, fruit is added to these oak-aged beers to create a complete flavour experience. The finished product is heavenly."

The magic brew

The brewing process and time for fruit-infused brews is not that different from the regular ales that most microbreweries develop. Schaedig says,"Fruit can be added at any step in theory but most brewers would add it to the end of the boiling process, or inside the fermenter. The amount varies depending on what you wish to create but, on an average, 50-100 kg of most fruits will give flavour to 1000 litres of beer."

For the Indie Brew fest, Toit developed a Mosambi Wheat beer for which, unlike their other fruit-infused ales, they just used the peel as opposed to the pulp or juice. "It lent a light, citrusy note to the beer," George says. However, most brewers will use fresh fruit pulp or juice to develop the flavour. "We add aseptic fruit puree or juice during secondary fermentation. The recipe usually calls for 10% fruit puree. There are recipes where fruit puree is added during the boil process in the kettle but we haven't tried it yet," says Nagarajan. While they brewed an Alphonso Mango Golden Ale for the Indie Brew fest, in the past they've developed a Watermelon Hefeweizen and a Pineapple IPA.

Passing the taste test

For those who aren't familiar with craft beer or fruit-infused ales, one word of caution - the brew will largely contain the aroma of the fruit as opposed to any real taste. "Since the yeast eats away all the sugars, what's left behind are the fruit-infused aromas, colour and little bit of the tartness. Anything that's un-fermentable is left behind in the beer," Nagarajan says. While Parwani says that they aim to balance the aroma with a fairly substantial perception on the palate, Schaedigexplains that sweet, sour or bitter fruit flavours make up the actual taste of the beer.

Notwithstanding what it tastes like, Bengalureans seem to love the novelty of it.Most breweries we spoke to develop brews in 1,000 litre batches, however, Toit has started brewing 2,000 litres of their AamAadmi Ale and Pumpkin Ale because of the huge demand. Nagarajan points out how these flavoured alesusually run out 30% faster than Windmills' regular beers.

Made in limited batches, most of these fruit-infused ales (made for the Indie Brew fest)would have run out by now but if you keep an eye out there's bound to be more in the future.

26 Sep. 2016

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