9 A.M. Beer Cravings

Note: This post was written on Wednesday, September 30.

Splitting a Kingfisher on the tour bus

Splitting a Kingfisher on the tour bus

It’s 9:00 a.m., and I’m craving a good craft beer, but to quote Mick Jagger, I can’t get no satisfaction. You see, while the rest of the craft beer world has been caught up in the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, I’m in India.

I did some research beforehand, even found the names of a few good beer bars in Delhi, but I’m part of a tour group, currently in Jaipur.

I was prepared for 16 days without craft beer in a society where millions of adults don’t drink alcohol. I even looked forward to tasting my first Kingfisher, India’s macro beer brewed by United Breweries Limited. What I couldn’t fully anticipate were the everyday realities.

Our tour group stocking up on alcohol

Our tour group stocking up on alcohol

It seems that for a lot of Indians, no matter what social class, beer simply isn’t on their radar. In Haridwar, the holy city on the Ganges, there’s no alcohol at all. Other than a band of very happy whisky-drinking men on the Tokyo-Delhi flight, I haven’t noticed a lot of Indians consuming alcohol. Although I know they exist, I have yet to see a bar outside a hotel or airport.

On several occasions, our group has dropped by English wine shops to stock up on alcohol. Despite the name, these take-away liquor stores offer beer, whiskey and more. Like so many businesses here, these are small shops—6 to10 feet wide—with a walk-up counter. A customer states his request, which an employee then pulls from the shelves behind the counter.

Beer choices at Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi

Beer choices at Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi

In addition to Kingfisher, beer options include mostly European imports. The most popular I’ve seen are Tuborg (Denmark) and Mahou (Spain). I also spotted Henineken and Amstel (Holland), Stella Artois and Chimay (Belgium), Moretti (Italy), Murphy’s (Ireland), Charger (Scotland), Foster’s (Australia), Asahi (Japan), Corona and Sol (Mexico) and even Budweiser.

When we stopped at a small, very crowded walk-in liquor store in Delhi, I asked our guide if it was acceptable for Indian women to enter such shops alone. “In Delhi and Mumbai, yes.  Elsewhere, no.”

Not surprisingly, alcohol isn’t cheap here. My first Kingfisher, in a Delhi business-class hotel, cost 325 rupees, about $5.40, U.S., plus a 20% alcohol tax, a 6% serving charge and a 5.6% surtax for a total of 427 rupees, a little over $7.00 U.S. By comparison, in a more traditional hotel in Jaipur, I ordered two cheese and tomato sandwiches and a Coke with room service, total: 240 rupees.

So, what does Kingfisher taste like?

Kingfisher Premium Lager

Kingfisher Premium Lager

A macro beer. Not a huge difference from a Bud or Coors. Same light golden lager, pours with a nice head that doesn’t last too long, not much lacing, malt predominates in the aroma. The biggest difference to my taste buds is a sweetness from the beginning of a sip to the swallow with a nice maltiness that kicks in during the after taste.

I have yet to figure out the beer styles Kingfisher offers. The website shows 13 brands, including exports. So far, I’ve only seen Ultra—in clear bottles—and Premium Lager—in green and brown bottles. Both taste fairly similar to me. I noticed a hint of skunkiness in the aroma and taste of my third Ultra, not surprising given the clear bottle.

Waiters Sandeep Sagar, Lokendra Singh, Balram Meena

Waiters Sandeep Sagar, Lokendra Singh, Balram Meena

One morning at Talabagaon Castle, our hotel outside Dausa, I was the first to arrive for breakfast. Three impeccably dressed waiters stood at attention while I ate. I struck up a conversation with Sandeep, Balram and Lokendra and learned that none of them were beer drinkers, preferring “MDC” on the occasions when they did imbibe. Again, beer just didn’t seem important. They graciously brought out three 650 ml. bottles of Kingfisher for the above photo op.

Later, I spoke with Dalpat Singh, owner of Talabgaon Castle where his family has lived for the last 200 years. He clarified that MDC, or MacDowell’s, is an Indian whiskey. I later searched online and discovered that it’s produced by United Spirits Limited, a subsidiary of—surprise—United Breweries Limited.

Dalpat Singh, owner of Castle Talabagoan

Dalpat Singh, owner of Talabagoan Castle

I asked if Mr. Singh if he was familiar with craft beer. He initially understood “draught beer,” which he said is sometimes served at the polo club. I explained that in the U.S., craft beer refers to beer brewed by independent, usually small, breweries that produce high quality beer which generally retails for higher prices than a massed-produced beer like Budweiser. Mr. Singh thought that such a concept would be a hard sell in India.

Time and again over the last week and a half, I’ve been awed by this incredible country—the natural beauty, people, food, religions, history and so much more. You can bet, though, that I’ll celebrate my homecoming with a good craft beer.

Post note: On October 4, my husband met me at the San Jose airport. On the way home, we stopped at a craft brewery and finally satisfied my craving.

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