It is bhajia-chai season in Mumbai. But there’s another way to unwind with the pitter-patter of rain as the background score. Pour yourself a tall glass of beer to go with a steaming bowl of ramen. I discovered this most comforting combo last week at the Japanese restaurant Izumi, which has collaborated with the Pune microbrewery Great State Aleworks to launch a beer exclusive to the outlet. The ultra crisp and mildly lemon-y brew is named Izumi Kolsch.
Woodside Inn, a bar, is celebrating a beer and burger festival till early August. It has six new beers crafted especially for it by Gateway Brewing Co., 2 Down Beer Co., Bombay Duck Brewing, Rolling Mills Brewery and Bira 91.
New beers like these give the term limited edition a whole new meaning. They are exclusive to restaurants, crafted in tandem with the food menu, and are immensely “session-able”— in other words, made for easy drinking, to be sipped and savoured. “Restaurants that are serious about their bar programme tend to collaborate with microbreweries to offer more options to the diner,” notes Abhishek Chinchalkar of Bombay Duck Brewing.
In the past, they have partnered with O Pedro and Nho Saigon in Mumbai. Great State has done special beers for Boteco in Pune and Mumbai as well as The Bombay Canteen. In 2020, Great State had used rice to create the Foo Brew at the Asian restaurant Foo, which has eight outlets across Mumbai. A permanent feature on Foo’s menu today, it’s one of their hottest-selling drinks.
The concept of such exclusive collaboration is unique to Maharashtra and Goa. “Restaurants are beginning to offer exclusively brewed unique beers to differentiate in the competitive Goa market,” says Nakul Bhonsle, director of Great State.
The concept doesn’t exist even in the beer capital of Bengaluru, possibly because the need hasn’t been felt. Gaurav Sikka, managing director of Arbor Brewing Company, says: “There are about 75 brewpubs and each neighbourhood has about four-five breweries with unique, seasonally changing and diverse offerings. So, one doesn’t feel the need to launch something that’s limited to a restaurant.” Pubs menus, too, showcase a variety of cuisines and dishes in Bengaluru.
In Mumbai, high rentals and space constraints mean it’s impossible to set up brewpubs to house a dining space and a brewery. The next best thing then is to partner with bars and restaurants that draw in the crowd with impressive ales, lagers and kölsch.
The common thread—each beer is easy drinking, and created to go with food. This implies they are not too hoppy and don’t have flavours that would compete with, or overpower, tempura, sushi and burgers. “It has to be a very session-able beer. We can be slightly experimental but if you have created it for a restaurant, you want it to keep moving and do well,” explains Salil Palkar, co-founder of 2 Down Beer Co.
Woodside Inn’s beer and burger festival has an English Mild Ale, named Prince of Ales, priced at ₹695 for a pint. It is made with Maris Otter barley, East Kent Golding hops and London ESB yeast. Less than a kilometre away is Izumi, with their light-bodied kölsch, priced at ₹400 for a pint, made with Sorachi Ace hops from Japan. With notes of yuzu, coriander and dill, it has the refreshing characteristic of a sparkling wine.
In the dreary monsoon of Mumbai, there’s nothing like a glass of craft beer for a touch of gold.