India Rail Ale

Having been a regular visitor to India in the decade leading up to the plague, this was my first trip since that forced hiatus. India had never had a big beer culture (or at least not since the days the British were stationed there) but brewpubs were just starting to appear when I first went in 2010. Many more were to spring up over the next few years but very much concentrated in a few cities like Delhi and Bengaluru, and beer quality generally ranged from average to homebrew (with the honourable exception of Arbor in Bengaluru, an offspring of the eponymous brewer in Michigan (and not related to the one in Brizzle!)). However, in the last few years brewpubs have started to spring up all over the place, and with the exception of the dry state of Gujarat I was able to find craft beer in almost every city I stayed. Unsurprisingly, Untappd and Ratebeer are very incomplete for India, but I found simply searching ‘craft beer’ on Google maps came up with the best results.

As with previous trips, I had an ‘open jaw’ flight (in this case out to Mumbai, back from Delhi) and used trains to get between cities, generally paying around a tenner for an overnight journey in air-conditioned sleeper class. Local travel during the day was a mix of local trains costing 20-50p a trip, Uber (half hour ride from the airport costing the princely sum of £3), and autorickshaws costing between 50p and 2 quid a trip. Decent hotels were generally under £20 a room, food is cheap and contrary to stereotype perfectly safe if you follow Rule 1 – watch it being cooked fresh in front of you. In fact the only thing that isn’t cheap is craft beer! As with many cheap countries, craft beer isn’t noticeably cheaper than here, with a 300ml glass being £2 at the cheapest place I went and £4 at the most expensive.

Although I landed in Mumbai I didn’t plan to spend much time there (been before, and it’s humid as hell), so just the one bar before heading north, namely Doolally Taproom, an outlet for the eponymous brewery on the outskirts of Mumbai. A small bar, with lovely air conditioning, six beers were on offer plus a cider and a mead. I opted for the ‘flight’, six 100ml glasses for a bit under a tenner, along with some spicy masala topped chips with dips. The coffee and orange mead was really interesting, the beers were all decent if not exciting, the oat stout probably being the pick. From here we took a train to Anand for the overnight journey to Veraval.

Being as the next two days were in Gujarat there’s not much to report for a beer magazine, so I’ll skip ahead to Rajasthan…

I last visited Jodhpur in 2010, and was only really passing through this time, but had long enough to visit 4 Brothers brewpub. The brewery and restaurant are on the ground floor, but we were directed to the ‘sky bar’, though really it was just an upstairs room with a glass front.

Beers were a bit different from the ‘usual’ Indian brewpub offerings, with mango wheat, a strawberry ale and a rose wheat!

I spent three nights in Ludhiana (carefully planned mid-trip so I’d be able to avail of the hotel laundry service, halving the amount of clothes I needed to carry round), which happens to have three brewpubs all five minutes’ walk apart. First up was Underdoggs, a sports bar (no prize for guessing which sport was on, especially as it was the World Cup!). I tried the surprisingly refreshing Masala Saison and the German Wheat, there were also a lager and a cider.

Just down the road is Brew Estate, part of a small chain of brewpubs, on this occasion offering their ‘house’ lager and a German style Bock. The cricket was on here too.

Finally, round the corner was Brew Haus, which wasn’t showing the cricket but from the rooftop bar one could watch on a huge screen in the square. The beers were Gabru, a pale lager, and dark lager Boxer. Both very German in style, fairly sweet and a slight biscuity finish.

From here I popped over the Haryana state line to Ambala, where I visited Pyramid brewpub. Inside it was much the same as most of the other places, dimly lit and large screens showing the cricket. I picked the Belgian Wheat (well the Scottish Ale was off and the lager was, well, lager).

Back in Punjab the train took me to Bathinda, where I visited The Brewery Club, which has the brewery on the ground floor, a restaurant upstairs and a bar downstairs, though food is also served at the latter, and I had an egg curry with jeera rice. Beers were a German Ale, a German Lager, a Belgian wit and a dark lager. These were by far the cheapest beers of the trip, but were as good as any of the other brewpubs I tried in Punjab. The menu somewhat bizarrely referred to both 350ml and 550ml measures as ‘British Pint’!

*Tourism interlude* While in Punjab I decided it would be rude not to visit the Golden Temple at Amritsar, I took an autorickshaw from the station to near the temple then walked the rest of the way, which was slow progress as I got stuck in traffic despite being on foot! The narrow alleys are totally unsuited to motor traffic, but that doesn’t stop people driving autorickshaws down them, completely clogging the way. Once at the temple I checked in my boots, receiving a metal token in return, I then had to buy some loose-fitting trousers as shorts are not allowed inside, and finally was loaned a patka (head covering). I spent a good while exploring the temple, though at the risk of losing my Yorkshire green card I passed up the opportunity of a free meal at the langar as the queue was too long – well they do serve 100,000 meals a day!

Once I finished at the temple, binned the trousers and retrieved my boots I took an autorickshaw across town to a little cluster of craft bars, starting with the most familiar, Brewdog. Obviously I eschewed their own wares in favour of the local guests… inside it was like any Brewdog bar anywhere in the world, and was quite empty at the time I went. I had an excellent mango wheat and a decent IPA from Mobster brewery, and from Brew Nut a stout.

From here it was a short stroll to Beer Story, a small bar with just one craft beer among the Kingfisher etc, Beach Beauty Pilsner from Aquarian brewery.

Round the corner on the second floor of a shopping centre is Egyptian Brewery, another brewpub, offering light and strong versions of lager. At this point my internet connection randomly cut out, thankfully after I’d ordered my Uber back to the station and my final overnight train of the trip.

As with Mumbai I’d given myself little time in Delhi, as it has featured in almost all my Indian trips so far. There are a handful of brewpubs and craft bars in central Delhi, but the district of Gurgaon has loads, however I’m pretty sure not all the brewpubs actually brew – in particular there’s a square which had three brewpubs when I went and grew to at least nine, but all with suspiciously similar beer range! For my trip swansong I opted for Fort City Brewing in New Delhi, a modern brewpub seemingly popular with Indians and westerners alike. I worked my way through most of the beers, ignoring only the lagers, accompanied by a pulled duck burger for a bit of a change from spicy food three times a day (not that I was complaining!). The beers were definitely the best (and most expensive!) of the trip, including a dunkelweizen, a stout, a NEIPA and a berry witbier.

After that it just remained to get a £2.60 Uber for the half hour drive to the airport, exchange my online boarding card for a printed one (the airport procedures have got a lot smoother since that first trip when we queued an hour just to get in the building, but they still like to stamp the boarding card at the check-in desk, at passport control and at security control), fly overnight to Munchen and on to Brum, then a train back to Sheffield that made me wonder if I was still in India, taking 45 minutes to get from Birmingham International to New St and then absolutely crush loaded from there to Sheffield…

Once back at Sheffield station it was just a 15 minute walk home, or would have been had I not gone via Rutland Arms, Head of Steam, Vocation, Brewdog, Crow and Lost in West Bar. By that stage I was too tired to go to Shakespeare so just took a Bolt home and ordered a curry…

Dave Szwejkowski

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