Thursday, 11 July 2013

Indian-brewed IPA

It seems several lifetimes ago that I was obsessively researching and writing about Pale Ale and India. Before Scotland and all things hops. Oh well. Today I'm returning to that particular well, with a bucket and a thirst.

Thanks to Bailey of Boak and Bailey for pointing me in the direction of this.

There had been breweries in India since the middle of the 19th century, but they had been limited to higher-altitude regions in the north of the country until the development of artificial refrigeration after 1870. In the south of India, it seems that it took rather longer for breweries to appear.

There are not many cities of the same size as Madras which, up to quite a recent date, did not possess a brewery for the manufacture of beer, ale, and stout, and yet this busy, dusty, thirst-producing town had no such industry as brewing until the year 1913. when the Madras B.B.B. Brewery Co., Ltd.—which is an offshoot of the British Beer Breweries, Ltd., of London—was established. The managing agents are Messrs. McDowell & Co., Ltd., of Second Line Beach, Madras, and they have given the same unremitting attention to this venture as to the manufacture of their famous cigars and cigarettes, which have justly earned for themselves an enviable reputation in nearly every civilized country in the world.

The first and the most important consideration in brewing is an abundant supply of pure water, and this was only obtained after fourteen months' diligent search. No fewer than 14 bores were sunk before the spring which is now in use was found. A well 18 ft. in diameter was built, which gives 6,000 gallons of water an hour. This water has been tested by the Government analyst, and it has been certified to be absolutely pure. The buildings were constructed in accordance with plans designed by Messrs. George Adlam & Sons, of Bristol, England, who supplied the up-to-date brewing plant, and they have been erected in such a manner that enlargements can be carried out and additional plant accommodated without difficulty at any time.

The company has acquired the sole rights for the Madras Presidency for the use of S.T. yeast (Saccharomyces Thermantitonum), which differs from the English type in that it is heat-resisting and impervious to the extreme heat of the summer months on the plains of India. Imported yeast, on the other hand, cannot survive for long a temperature of 75° F., and it rapidly dies in the hot weather months. A fully qualified English brewer and chemist is employed as chief brewer, and some 40 hands are regularly engaged at the brewery. Exceedingly good examples of India pale ale and light dinner ale are brewed especially for the Indian climate, from the finest Scotch malt and Kent hops. Pilsener, a beautiful light beer, is made from Bavarian hops and Bohemian malt, and it has all the pleasurable characteristics of the imported article ; while a fine double stout of genuine London type is also the product of British malt and hops only.

There is an excellent market in Madras and in the surrounding districts, as the nearest competing brewery is over 200 miles distant.

The management of affairs at the brewery is in the capable hands of Mr. W. R. Prosser, a brewer and brewing chemist of considerable experience, and though the concern only lately started (May 1913), progress has been so satisfactory and such an encouraging reception accorded to its beers that the future of the company should be a bright one."
"Southern India: Its History, People, Commerce, and Industrial Resources" compiled by Somerset Payne, 1914-1915, page 139.

I'm glad that they bothered to list the types of beer brewed. Most excitingly, an Indian-brewed IPA is among them. Though, without the sea journey, would it have been properly matured?  I'd love to know exactly how they brewed it. If you remember, Burton Pale Ales like Bass spent months in the brewery yard before even starting the journey to India. I can't imagine they could have done the same in tropical Madras.

It's a sign of changing tastes that they made a Pilsener as well as British styles. The outbreak of WW I must have made getting hold of Bavarian hops and Bohemian malt rather tricky. I wonder where they sourced their raw materials during the war?

Was there any particular reason for picking Scottish malt? I suppose when you were shipping it half way around the world, it made little difference if it came Leith or London.

I realise there's one style notable for its absence: Mild Ale. Was it ever brewed in India? It must have been imported at some point, surely.

Saccharomyces Thermantitonum is new to me, but seems pretty damn weird. It was accidentally discovered by Grove Johnson in 1905. Here's what he had to say about it:

"Imagine, then, how my interest was excited by the discovery of a yeast that resisted destruction at 183° F., and whose most favourable temperature for the performance of its functions — budding, fermentation — was found to be, after countless experiments, between 105° and 112° F."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 11, Issue 6, November-December 1905, page 469.
You can see why you would want to use a yeast with these characteristics if brewing in Madras. It sounds as if you could use it in the tropics without the need for refrigeration. It seems such handy stuff, that it would still be used today. Unless, of course, it makes beer that tastes horrible.

Johnson himself saw possibilities for its use in temperate climates, too:

"The habits and characteristics of the new yeast being once under stood, I quickly realised that I had to deal with latent possibilities capable of revolutionising existing methods of tropical brewing, whilst the savings that might be effected at home appeared not less striking. The extremely high temperature favourable to fermentation rendered unnecessary anything in the nature of coolers, refrigerators, and ice machinery, and the extraordinary solidity of the yeast after fermentation obviated the processes of skimming, cleansing, and yeast pressing;"
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 11, Issue 6, November-December 1905, page 470.
It sounds like amazing stuff. Why have I never heard of it before? I'm sure there are homebrewers in Texas who would love to have a yeast that can work at such high temperatures.

The article prompted me to do a litttle digging around on brewing in India. I'll be pestering you with it soon.


Ed said...

The Brewery History Society had an article on this weird yeast not so long ago.

Jaime said...

Sacch Thermantitonum has popped up more recently...well a few decades ago. During the brief civil war that led to the Sandanistas coming to power for the first time in Nicaragua, all electricity to the Cerveceria la Toña (now Cerveceria Industrial) was knocked out for about 3 weeks. The brewing team found perfectly viable yeast at the base of one fermenter and re-progagted it when the brewery went back online, and found it different in several ways, including its morphology. But taste and attainment of %RDF target were fine, so they were happy. They went forward using the heat-resisitant strain.

Ron Pattinson said...


that's interesting. Especially the bit about flavour and attenuation. It seems a no-brainer for a brewery in the tropics to use this yeast. It must be cheaper not to have to refrigerrate the fermenting wort.

Martyn Cornell said...

The British Beer Breweries, Ltd. also had a brewery in Singapore: I confess that until I started reading Singapore newspapers online I had never heard of the organisation, and I still don't know much, but it seems to be a company set up to run breweries in "the Empire".

Ron Pattinson said...


I've just discovered the Singapore online newspaper archive. And doing my best not to get distracted by it.

There's more stuff coming about beer and brewing in India. I find it fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Ed's right. Brewery History No. 140 'S.T. Ferment Co. Ltd. and the Model Brewery, Norbury, London' pp.57-70. Let me know if you'd like a copy, Ron. @BeerHasAHistory

Ron Pattinson said...


yes please.