IPA or India Pale Ale is an all too often ignored sector of India's craft beer world. With a distinct hoppy taste and an edge of bitterness, its a beer that has been waiting in the wings for its time to shine and Karan Jain thinks that time might be now.
One of the most exciting and rapidly evolving spaces in Indian alcohol today is the craft brewery industry. Over the last decade, we have witnessed a remarkable transformation in the Indian beer scene, with a plethora of small, independent breweries popping up all across the country. And as someone who loves nothing more than a good quality, frothy pint, I must say that it's a very welcome change indeed.
A hallmark of this evolution is the sheer variety of beers on offer. And because most of these breweries are small and independent, they are able to experiment with unusual ingredients and flavours, pushing the boundaries of what beer can be.
One such name that has been toying with those boundaries is BrewDog, a multinational pub and brewing company that originated in Scotland but is now also a familiar face on our Indian craft scene and only looking to get bigger with over 30 more taprooms set to open across India. They’re at the forefront of innovation when it comes to flavours in the brewery space and encourage people to expand their knowledge of craft beer, even offering free tasters to help you learn more about the flavours. As we push into 2023, they’re poised to take on what might be the next wave in the craft beer scene - the resurgence of the IPA.
For those unfamiliar with this beer, here’s a quick primer. IPA, or India Pale Ale has been around since the 18th century when British traders and soldiers stationed in India were longing for a taste of home, including their beloved beer. However, the long journey from Britain to India took its toll on the beer. The high temperatures and rough seas caused the beer to spoil, leaving it undrinkable by the time it arrived in India. To combat this problem, brewers in Britain began adding more hops to their beer, which acted as a natural preservative. This extra hoppy beer soon became known as India Pale Ale, or IPA for short. Today, IPA beer is still known for its hoppy flavour, but the style has evolved over time. There are now several different types of IPA, each with its own unique characteristics.
For craft beer enthusiasts, IPA is a familiar name in the line-up, but until recently wheat beers have been the standing favourite. “The majority of people still feel safer with a wheat beer but there is an audience looking to try IPA” says Karan Jain, CEO of BrewDog India. “Many find it too bitter, but that’s how an IPA is supposed to be. We face that challenge all the time, I personally think it’s one of the best styles.”
This loyalty to wheat beers may have something to do with the fact that they usually have a lighter profile, more familiar to those who have grown up with commercial lagers, but the craft beer space is already changing how people drink. “Gone are the days when they’d ask for the typical name-brand bottles of beers, people want better quality beers and the ingredients that go into them are much more premium and it takes at least two weeks of fermentation as opposed to regular beers which only take 9-10 days,” says Karan, “The popularity of quality craft beer has been growing year after year but since it can’t always be mass-produced and bottled or canned. Because of that availability, commercial beer has always won in terms of volume. But a lot of people are shifting to craft beer because there are more people taking the initiative to open taprooms.”
Another major factor that seems to be holding IPAs back is the bitter profile that they naturally hold. India is a country ruled by their tastebuds, and even Karan had some pivoting to do when they first launched BrewDog’s typically international line-up here. “We like to go by the trends and we replicate BrewDog’s global trends for the Indian market,” he explains, “A Pina Colaba IPA is something we’re trying out. We’re always innovating and try to keep up with what the world is doing.”
For over a decade, the USA has always been a hub for the IPA and Indian F&B trends tend to follow in its suit, you needn’t look any further than the recent seltzer boom for proof of that. So by that measure, it seems like IPA is set for its golden hour. “Since we’ve opened our first taprooms we realised that people’s tastes have been adapting and more people are ordering IPAs and there’s even a small niche market for stout beers too.” says Karan, “In the next few years, I see people branching out from the typical wheat beer, trying the Dunkels – which are more similar to a lager.”
IPA beer is a complex and fascinating style of beer with a rich history and a unique flavour profile. Whether you prefer the bold hoppy flavours of an American IPA or the juicy tropical notes of a New England IPA, there is an IPA out there for everyone. So the next time you're in the mood for a beer, why not try an IPA and experience the magic for yourself?