Last Updated : 30/11/05
- by Mark Enderby.
his was a little tripette to the Indian Himalaya NW of Delhi in the footsteps of Michael Palin.
A start from Heathrow gave us the chance to pop in to the Coach & Horses at Weatheroak Hill for lunch and I topped up on my last decent beer for 10 days !
As usual, the airport is fairly soul destroying (must try and avoid it in future) - compounded by the fact that the T3 airside O'Neills had run out of Daft Bass. The flight to Delhi was by Virgin and pretty good at that. In fact, it propbably delivered the best beer of the trip … a can of Cobra brewed by Browar Belga of Poland !
The hotel in New Delhi was vastly overpriced … £2.60 for 0.3l bottle of Indian-brewed Kingfisher. The alternate choice was £3 for a variety of bland imports. The next day we were off on the train to Amritsar to see the fantastic Golden Temple. Unfortunately the trains are dry so it wasn't until we got to the hotel at Amritsar that refreshment was scored. The offerings set the tone for the whole trip; a choice of Kingfisher Premium, Kingfisher Super Strength and Fosters !
As in the US, each Indian state has it's own licensing laws and bottles are marked for sale in a particular state. The majority of the beer we came across was brewed at United Brewery' Ludhiana plant in the Punjab. No specific ABVs are quoted … The ordinary Kingfisher was 3.25 to 5.25 and the Super Strength was 5.25 to 8.25. The taste suggested that both were to the lower end of the scale. Presumably the prevalence of Fosters is due to ScotCo's investment in UB. Bottles here were the standard 650ml. These came in at around £1.30 (twice the street price). Bottles come in any colour i.e green, brown and clear.
We then moved up in the Hills to Dharamsala - home of the Dalai Lhama (he'd decided to visit Britain !). Here, there was a greater choice of bottles such as Thunderbolt and Haywood 5000 - both in the stronger band and product of UB. I only tried one of these since previous experience had shown them to be rather sickly and unpleasant. Alcohol is widely available in "so-called" English Beer shops but there seemed to be some differentiation between shops that could sell beer and spirits and those that sold wine and cider (Himachal Pradesh is a large apple producer). I did try one cider (Tempest) which was pleasant and not over carbonated since the beer was beginning to pall and I was suffering from it's unpleasant side-effects.
Another day's drive took us to Shimla, the old summer HQ of the British. We had been here on our honeymoon and learned the hard way that Indian beer can cause more problems than the food. Then, there was an offie hidden just below the Mall. It was noted for the locals buying a bottle and then moving to the adjacent public toilets to drink it - pretty efficient ! Anyway we had selected a few bottle of things like Thunderbolt and Stallion and retired to our hotel. We were very ill the next day ! A trawl of the net reveals suggestions that Indian beer contains glycerine to preserve it and that this is the cause of bad hangovers. I'm not sure I believe this though. Anyway, I stuck to the ordinary Kingfisher and also Sandpiper which is apparently India's fastest growing brand. This was attributed to Millenium Beer Industries of New Delhi but also appears on the UB portfolio.
Trawling the Internet for Indian beer info is not very fruitful. However, I did know of a brewery at Solan a few miles from Shimla on the narrow gauge railway and was hopeful of coming across some of Mohan Meakin's ale.
We left Shimla on the train and passed the brewery before transferring to jeeps to continue our trip. We stopped at a restaurant high above Barog station and I was disappointed to be offered the usual Kingfisher even after enquiring about the local ale. However, there were a few strange things about the beer - it came in "Meakin's 1000 Golden Eagle" bottles and it was hazy ! The labels looked legit but one said "For the consumption of armed forces only" ! When questioned about the haze, the staff were overly keen to confirm this was the real Kingfisher and blamed it on a chill haze … however it was no colder than any other beer we'd had. It certainly tasted like a yeast suspension from inadequate filtering. Unfortunately, I'll never know the truth behind this one.
And so to New Delhi and more extortionate prices, and 8-hour plane journey and 4 hours up the M6 before tucking into a bottle of Rogue Imperial Russian Stout as a nightcap.