India. Women’s Day Special: Meet the girls who brew your beer

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The Indian craft brewing scene is studded with ladies who dig beer and are great at brewing it. We speak to bunch of them.

Most Indians still see beer as a man’s drink. A friend of mine recently went to a restaurant in Salem, Tamil Nadu, along with his wife, and they ordered two bottles of beer. The restaurant staffer, though, served both the bottles to him (my friend). Thankfully, our metros are more progressive when it comes to beer, and the craft beer scene, especially, has a fair number of women actually brewing beer thousands of guys — and girls — glug every weekend.

Most Indians also wouldn’t be aware that Sumerians from southern Mesopotamia, the first people to document the recipe for beer, worshipped Ninkasi, who was their goddess of beer. A hymn to Ninkasi goes like this: “Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is [like] the onrush of the Tigris and Euphrates.” It was believed that Ninkasi gifted beer to humans to preserve peace and well being. Beer only became a preserve of men with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that, women were active players, brewing beer and heading guilds.

While the majority of brewpubs in India are male-dominated, there are a bunch of ladies, who brew some excellent stuff.

Ashwini Rajagopal, head brewer, TJ’s Brew Works, Pune

On how she got into the craft beer industry: I’ve always loved beer, and have been around beer and brewing since I was 17. I started out as a trainee with Mohan Breweries, in Chennai, and have worked with UB and SAB Miller. I then graduated in industrial biotechnology, and further training in Scotland helped me further understand the technical and managerial aspects of brewing. And, that lead me to TJ’s.

On what she enjoys most about her job: It’s total fun giving birth, so to speak, to India Pale Ales, porters, stouts and blondes. And, for someone who’s been around in the industry for half a decade, it’s great to see more and more women join it.

On the challenges she has faced pursuing her passion: I come from an orthodox community, and getting around them was one of my biggest challenges. But, that didn’t stop me from achieving from what I wanted to do. Brewing is a lot of physical work. One also has to strategise mentally every day; it’s not just about the beer, but about the entire brewing unit, and you have to have a well thought-out plan. Of course, men do the same, too, but the bunch of women who are doing it in India are doing it after overcoming social and religious taboos.

On what she likes to drink/brew? To drink: TJ’s Bock brew, it’s nice and full-bodied, with hints of toffee and malt. To brew: I love all beers, but I lean towards Lambics and Sours.

Vidya Khuber, head brewer, Big Brewsky, Bengaluru

On how she got into the craft beer industry: It started with drinking beer. It was my beverage of choice. I also travelled to Europe and spent time at breweries there to gauge my passion for the craft, and I was hooked. My formal exposure has been a Master Brewer Certificate from Siebel Institute and Doemens Academy, in Chicago, US, and I interned at a few Bavarian breweries before joining Big Brewsky.

On what she enjoys most about her job: Every single aspect, whether it’s hops, malt, yeast or water. Each in itself is so interesting, especially when you think about all of it coming together in a brew. So, a day at work for me is like what a round of golf might be to some.

On the challenges she has faced pursuing her passion: Getting past my parents’ concerns about entering the “alcohol world” was difficult. But the brewing fraternity stretches across borders and is always of great help and support. On what she likes to drink/brew? To drink: Saison, Kellerbier, Gose. To brew: Belgian-style ales.

Varsha Bhat, assistant brewer, The Barking Deer, Mumbai

On how she got into the craft beer industry: I was always interested in beer, and always reached out to people in the industry to get a sense of what I had to do to get into it. That’s what The Barking Deer happened. (The Barking Deer, which opened in 2013, was Mumbai’s first micro-brewery.)

On what she enjoys most about her job: For me, beer is a way of life. It’s a complete experience, if you think about it. It’s sweet, bitter and sour, just like life.

On the challenges she has faced pursuing her passion: Most people don’t know that in ancient times, it was women who brewed beer, while the men went hunting. Craft beer in India is still a male-dominated industry, but that doesn’t mean women can’t do better than men.

On what she likes to drink/brew? To drink: India Pale Ales. To brew: I like traditional beer, but experimenting with different styles and processes is one of the many challenges I love. I love working on Wits, IPAs, stouts, bitters and sours.