New Delhi, April 2
Beer is widely associated with beer bellies but on the contrary, it is actually a very healthy drink. Probably one of the healthiest drinks one can have as it is made mostly from barley but can also have small quantities of rice or wheat.
The bitterness is created by the addition of hops, a flower that is very bitter and imparts its bitterness and flavour to the beer. Beer has all the natural goodness of barley, except for its starch, which is converted during the beer-making process into sugar with the help of enzymes available in the barley malt itself. This sugar is then converted into alcohol during the fermentation process, leaving all the other ingredients of the malted barley in the finished beer.
A normal beer with about 4.5 per cent alcohol contains less than half a calorie per ml of beer while a strong beer with about 7 per cent alcohol can have just three-fourths of a calorie per ml.
Beer has, however, for long been clubbed with other liquors in India for all regulations pertaining to the manufacture, distribution and sale. Nobody can trade in beer unless one gets an excise license from the concerned state government.
The same norms as applicable to liquor are applicable to beer on manufacturing, wholesale, retail sale and even on-trade sale, i.e. in bars, clubs and hotels. There is even a limit to how much beer one can keep at home – normally just about a case of beer is allowed in most states across the country. This as a matter of fact is quite the opposite of how beer is viewed in Europe, the US and other developed countries where it is considered more as a fun drink to be had in the company of friends, at parties and even in solitude at home.
Beer comes in a number of styles, the main ones being a lager, pilsner, ale, wheat, among others. Yeast plays a major part in the production of beer as it converts the sugars into alcohol and different yeasts impart different flavours and tastes to the beer. It takes about a fortnight for a beer to be ready for bottling during which time it is processed at temperatures ranging from 10C to 20C. The processing temperature can go as high as even 25C in the case of ales.
However, plant hygiene and quality control play a huge role in the final quality of beers and even a small deviation in the standard manufacturing procedures can result in the beer not meeting its final quality parameters. Beers can also be gold coloured or dark depending on the malt being used. The beer is bottled at about 3C and then immediately pasteurised before it is labelled and packed for dispatch to the market.
Beer quality has improved tremendously over the past few years. Beer shelf life which was traditionally considered only three months in the sixties has now increased to 12 months with improved processes and manufacturing systems. However, Beer should be kept in a cool place away from light in order to retain its original flavours and taste. Manufacturers are now more focused on quality and the entry of international brewers into the country has spurred domestic manufacturers to improve their processes in order to match international quality standards.
While this has resulted in increased consumption of beer, the per capita consumption of beer in India continues to be abysmally low when compared to other countries, being less than a litre. Compare this with the per capita consumption in Germany and Austria and even in Seychelles of over 100 litres! Obviously, we have a long distance to cover but this can only happen with a helping hand from the government and distancing beer from the liquor regulations.