Exploring The Wonderous World Of Craft Brews With Tales Of Froth’s John Eapen

The number of microbreweries in Bengaluru is on the rise as the concept of craft brews has taken over the alcohol scene in India. The garden city got its first microbrewery in 2010 and the number has steadily increased to over 19 since then. As more people are introduced to freshly brewed beers, the concept is slowly gaining tremendous support from the beer drinkers. The age of mass-produced bottled beer craze is slowly dying, leading to widespread popularity of fresh brewed craft beers. Beer drinkers have started preferring the different flavours and freshness of a craft beer over the generic taste of bottled beers.

As more people are introduced to craft brews, there is a distinct need to understand what a craft brew really is and how to identify the good brews and average brews. With years of experience in taste testing craft brews from around the world, John Eapen, writer and owner of Tales of Froth, a website covering the ins and outs of craft beers in India, gives us an exclusive peek into the world of microbreweries and fresh brewed beers.

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Early Beginnings 

Growing up and working in several countries introduced John to a wide variety of beers produced in different parts of the world. From Qatar, the US to Canada, John has explored what the best has to offer in terms of quality fresh brewed beers. Speaking about his vast experience with craft beers, John said, “Having lived in a few countries and moved several times, I’ve had the fortune of sampling a variety of beers and meeting people from various cultures.” Having tasted his first beer at the age of 16, John discovered craft beers during his university days spent in the US. While his love for craft brews never wavered, the necessity to return back to India in 2003 put his love of craft brews in a indefinite hold. 

Rekindling the relationship with craft brews happened when John moved to Canada to pursue his Aerospace Engineering and commercial test pilot license. “In Canada, my free time after flight school was spent looking for new beers to try and eventually I got invited to a private consumer panel organised by Molson Canada – Canada’s second largest brewery, ” added John. During his time in Canada, John was involved in several taste testing and provided feedback to newly launched beer brands. “For 3 years, I was involved in focus groups, taste tests, sampling new products that were yet to go to market, providing feedback on branding – labels, packaging ideas, concepts and ads. I got to see new can designs, beer ads and try out several new beers well before the general public got to experience these. This is where my interest in beer/craft beer skyrocketed.”

Pouring Beers in Chennai

Tales of Froth

After returning to India in 2013, John began his quest to educate the people about craft beers and to improve their experience drinking fresh brewed beers and Tales of Froth became the fruition of the that quest. “Tales Of Froth is a blog about all things beer & craft beer. It covers all the fundamentals behind beer, including brewpub/beer reviews, industry insights, interviews and posts about events, brands and so forth centered around India for the most part.”

The inspiration to start a blog about the microbrewery scene in Bengaluru came from the lack of information regarding the various brews made in the pubs of Bengaluru. “I was inspired to start this blog after returning to Bangalore, seeing all the brewpubs that had sprung up and realising nobody knew how to review or write about beer on food review sites or even in popular magazines for that matter. I knew craft beer, in the form of brewpubs and new brands, was something that was going to grow in India and quickly realised that someone had to take on the task of evangelising the public about Craft Beer. That’s how Tales Of Froth was born.”

Speaking in Chennai

In addition to maintaining the blog, John contributes to various publications and writes about the growing craft beer scene in India. Tales of Froth is a passion project for John and launching an online platform for craft beers required a lot of research and work. “It took me about 10 months of research before I launched Tales Of Froth on Feb 12, 2015. I visited brewpubs, sampled beers, took photos, talked to owners/brewmasters/customers, networked online with people connected with the Beer industry and had a lot of fun along the way too.”

Introduction To Craft Beers

Craft beers are an exercise in creativity as brewers tend to introduce their own unique touch to the brewing process. Craft brews are produced similarly to bottled beers, the difference being the lack of preservatives or additives present in bottled beers. “The simplest definition of Craft Beer is an artisanal brew that has been hand crafted in small batches, using high quality ingredients (no substitutes) by a microbrewery or a brewpub. In the US there are set definitions based on production volumes that define Craft breweries. Here in India, we really don’t have a set definition.” 

Although craft beers uses the same main ingredients as bottled beers, malted barley/grains, hops, water and yeast, the difference comes from the experimentation of different brewing methods and the addition of ingredients which gives the beer a unique flavour profile. Craft beers are also considered to be more creative than bottled beers in its taste and flavours. “Craft beers tend to be a bit more edgy and more creative – brewers have the freedom to experiment with new ingredients and push boundaries. They are free to do as they choose and hence Craft Beers stand for freedom.” 

Flavours Of The Brew

There are several categorization of craft beers and beers in general but most beers fall under two categories, Lagers and Ales. The modification of ingredients in the brewing process leads to a different style of beer under those two categories. Speaking about beer categories, John added, “In general lagers tend to be lighter with less robust characteristics. However you do find stronger versions of lagers particularly in Germany. Ales tend to be fuller when it comes to flavor and can range from light to heavy in terms of body (how thick or thin the beers are). Ale yeasts tend to produce a greater variety of flavour profiles. Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, Hefeweizens (Wheat), Belgian Wits (Wheat), Amber Ales, Porters, Stouts are all part of the Ale family each having a different flavour profile.”

Identifying a good brew comes from years of experience modifying your taste buds and palette and figuring out the nuisances of the brew. Generally, the palette “develops over time and if you know what to look for, this is something that gets easier with time. Knowing what to expect from a particular Beer style is very helpful when sampling”

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With years of experience tasting several craft beers, John gives us a primer on what you should look for in a beer: 

In general you are looking for a beer with good carbonation, a pleasant mouthfeel (how it feels on your tongue) and a flavour that is balanced (refined). Just like wine and whisky you go through the following parameters when assessing a beer – 

Appearance – clarity, carbonation, type of head (how frothy it is)

Aroma – dominant and subtle aromas. These could be from the malt, the yeast, hops and/or added ingredients such as fruit/spices etc.

Flavor & Mouthfeel – How the beer tastes when it first hits your tongue and how does it finish. Mouthfeel refers to whether it is crispy, thin or thick.

Beers Of India

Although there are several microbreweries in India, the craft beer scene in the country “is still at a nascent stage.” The concept of microbreweries and craft beers is slowly picking up steam as more people are looking to expand on their taste of beers. Microbreweries in India has gained wide-spread popularity with many brewery launches in the past year and plenty planned for the coming year. “There are several brewpubs opening this year around the country including ones in new cities. We are also seeing new players trying to establish themselves in the bottled beer segment as craft beer. Bira 91 is a example of this – an Indian brand that has their beer contract brewed in Belgium and then imported to India and sold here. Bira are looking to set up a manufacturing base in India this year. There are also rumours of international brands showing interest is setting up brewpubs across the country and some of these brands are interested in creating new products under joint ventures with local brewers, ” says John. 

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The beer market in India is dominated by one category of beer – lager. Although the market is saturated with lager based beers, there is a demand for more types and flavours, which has led to the increase in consumption of craft beers. “There at least 2,000 different types of beer out there. Craft beers give you the variety that lagers do not and Indians now have access to a variety of beer styles that are definitely more affordable and accessible compared to imported varieties.”

The liquor market in India is dominated by bottled beers and the lack of alternatives had led to consumption of beer without understanding the flavours and tastes of it. “Mass produced beers have their own place. They are made using brewers short cuts to cut costs – substitutes, shorter brewing cycles, additives (artificial flavours, stabilisers). These tend to be beers you drink in quantity most of the time and very little attention is spent on how good or bad these taste! Craft beers on the other had are like Single Malts – every sip is savoured and here it is quality over quantity.” 

Bottled Craft Beers  

In India, craft beers are restricted to breweries alone, while bottled craft beers are still difficult to manufacture, unlike many other countries with a distinct market for bottled craft beers. “There are currently no bottled craft beers made in India. Bira is bottled in Belgium for the moment. I can safely say that some of the brewpubs here, if allowed to bottle would have some great products on the shelves.” 

Microbreweries willing to bottle their brews require to pass through several hoops in accordance to existing state laws. “Many microbreweries are considering bottling their products but this will involve a change in state laws and may take some time. There are others like Bira looking to start new brands in India. If you are looking a time frame, I would say you can expect to see more Indian Craft Beer brands within the next 2-3 years.” 

Playing Favourites

John has traversed the world tasting several varieties of beers and he notes that one of his favourite brews comes from a brewery with a ton of history. “I have several favorite styles – Amber Ales, IPAs, Hefeweizens, Dunkelweizens, Weizenbocks, Hopfeweizens, Rauchbier, Belgian Dubbles, Tripels, Saisons, Guezes, Porters and Stouts. One of my favorite Hefeweizens of all time comes from the world’s oldest brewery WeihenStephan – established 1040 in Germany. Weihenstephaner is their Bavarian Hefeweizen – wheat beer. With plenty of banana and clove on the nose and palette, sweet, rich in carbonation and a nice foamy head makes this ale absolutely refreshing and delicious.”

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Although there are several local favourites for John, the best beer in Bengaluru goes to several breweries in various categories. “If I want a great Amber Ale/Irish Red, I’d go to Toit. For a super hoppy IPA, I’d go to Arbor. For an amazing Saison, Brewsky and for a nice wheat IPA, 3 Monkeys. If I’m craving a good Hefeweizen, Toit or Windmills. In a nutshell these are the breweries out of the 19 that do a great job in terms of focus, consistency and overall variety – Toit, Brewsky, 3 Monkeys, District 6, Windmills & Arbor.”

Breweries Upkeep 

Maintaining a brewery is an exhaustive process which requires a lot of intricate attention to detail and management of facility. There are also several factors that needs to be identified for proper maintenance of the brewery and its equipment. Although owning a brewery sounds like a good experience, it requires detailed management of assets and personnel for it to be any kind of success. Elaborating on the upkeep of a brewery, John said, “A brewery like any F&B business has to be well managed and planning and upkeep are key factors. Sometimes they face a shortage in ingredients or problems with equipment and I would say the most limiting factor would be capacity and maintaining batch consistency. As a brewpub grows in popularity, so does demand. Most brewhouses are relatively small in terms of capacity and sometimes there may not be space available to expand. The other challenge would be excise laws. Current state laws prohibit kegging and consuming beer made in house off premises. This really puts a damper on the craft beer movement. This is one of the reasons why we haven’t seen a craft beer festival here or have beers from brewpubs on tap at different restaurants and bars across the city.

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The Future Of Craft Brews

Microbreweries and craft beers are emerging in the Indian market with more international breweries willing to make their presence known in the country. Arbor Brewing Company in Bengaluru is a collaboration with a brewery in Michigan, USA and similarly there are several other breweries around the world who are more than willing to bring their brand of beer to the Indian market.  According to John, the craft beer scene in India is “on the up and up .This is something that will grow rapidly in the next 5-10 years. I guarantee you that everyone will know what craft beer is by then and I am sure there will be several craft beer connoisseurs/enthusiasts across the country by then and hopefully an award winning Indian craft beer label.”

John Eapen is the founder and writer for Tales of Froth. Check out his Facebook page for beer reviews, beer news and everything to do with beer in India. You can also check out Instagram for John’s adventures in the world of beer.