On a warm Saturday afternoon, an earnest speaker from Great State Aleworks gave a small group of us an introductory lesson on beer-making at the company’s rooftop restaurant, Great State Dive in Koregaon Park. In between, we were served 5-6 varieties of beer from the standard Belgian Whit beer to ‘Faaak it’ a brand launched in collaboration with the comedian, Vir Das. “Beer is made from 4 ingredients - Barley, hops, yeast and water,” he told us, presenting us with tubes filled with raw barley taste and smell and raw hops to smell (you cannot taste hops, they are intensely bitter). “It is, however, 95% water and only 5% alcohol. The water makes a difference. Beer made from Pune water will not taste the same as Mumbai water,” he added.
Craft beer is seen as an art, both in the making of it and the drinking of it. Microbreweries are only permitted to produce up to 5 lakh litres of it per year. They differentiate themselves from commercial beer by using higher quality ingredients and more customization. They also flavour their beers with seasonal fruit like mango, kokum (Garcinia Indica) and karvanda (Carissa Caranda) that is grown locally. Pune has a long standing tradition of craft beer. Doolally, its oldest microbrewery was established as far back as 2009 (it now has outlets in Mumbai in places like Kemp’s Corner, Khar West and Andheri). Craft beer drinking has slowly seeped into the city’s society and culture. "In 2009 when we started Doolally in Pune, craft beer was known to very few people in the country. So much so, that many of our guests back then actually travelled all the way from Mumbai, and very few came from the neighbourhood. That ratio has reversed since,” said Oliver Schauf, co founder of Doolally. Craft beer is expensive, make no mistake—it can cost twice as much as commercial beer but microbreweries argue that this is made up for in taste and quality.
Perhaps the best part of craft beer in Pune is not the beer but the culture associated with it. Breweries encourage site-visits to breweries or to taprooms (brewery-owned outlets) and explain the beer-making process to you. This is partly due to practical reasons. “Brewers have reduced retailing of beers in third-party restaurants. The taxes on such retail are high and this makes craft beer extremely costly.,” said Schauf. But the byproduct of this more limited availability is a more memorable experience. You have to seek out craft beer - it isn’t available in the ‘bar and permit room’ down the street.
Event-management companies also organise events around craft beer. Ours was curated by Trove Experiences (they also do events around perfume making and guided meditation). When you move to a new city, making friends is difficult. Our little group included a couple of newlyweds who had just moved to Pune and had driven to the event from as far away as Pimpri-Chinchwad (16 km from the venue). Even for those with deep roots in the city, craft beer offers a new and refreshing experience. Also, craft beer is drunk more slowly than commercial beer and more with an eye to the taste than the objective of getting drunk - a healthier way to approach alcohol.
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