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A pintful of honey in Mumbai

Barking Deer, a brewpub in the city, has created a new beer using gourmet honey and also does its bit for the environment

Ranjita Ganesan 

An upcoming initiative in the city may have found a way to make armchair activists contribute somewhat meaningfully to society. These passive groups can soon claim to have helped tribal farming become slightly more sustainable simply by chugging down glasses of beer.

The Barking Deer brewpub in Lower Parel will add Honey Wit, a new creation, to its range of craft beers on tap starting August 21. The bitter-sweet beer is infused with gourmet honey from Under The Mango Tree (UTMT), an organisation that sources and sells honey harvested by marginal farmers. It has been teaching beekeeping to farmers in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for about five years. Besides allowing farmers to earn extra cash through the sale of honey and beeswax, beekeeping increases agricultural yield by 40 per cent through cross-pollination, says the organisation. The brewpub will additionally send 10 per cent from the sales of Honey Wit to the UTMT society.

Since its inception, the brew masters at Barking Deer have been experimenting with local ingredients like orange peel and coriander for house-made beers. Vijaya Pastala, founder of UTMT, was dining here earlier in the year when she tried the jamun beer. "My immediate thought was why not do something like this with our honey?" It led her to approach the establishment's owner, Greg Kroitzsh, who was excited by the idea. They came up with a few samples that received a positive response at an event in April. While honey is a common ingredient in mead, it is not as easy to incorporate in beer because of its tendency to dry out the concoction. After months of further experiments, the brewpub was ready to put the new beer on its menu.

Kroitzsh, who is described on the Barking Deer website as 'founder and despotic leader', worked with two brew masters to arrive at a recipe that bears the aroma of honey and some residual sweetness. It is a modification of Barking Deer's bestseller, the Flying Pig Belgian Wit. This unfiltered Belgian-style beer comprises 30 per cent malted wheat while the rest is made up of malted barley. Its creaminess and mouthfeel are a result of fermentation with yeast. Honey is added during the second round of fermentation and the end-product tastes quite like shandy.

Different honeys from the brand were used before settling on Tribal Gold, a variant Pastala describes as robust and bitter. It is collected from trained farmers in the Valsad district of Gujarat, sweetened with nectar and pollen from local mango, cashew, mahua-palash and jungle flora. The brew masters also attempted to combine honey with Bombay Blonde, the pub's malt-based, slightly sweet brew but Kroitzsh says they "did not like the result as much".

When Kroitzsh and his journalist wife Geeta Anand came to India during the financial downturn in 2008, he had no plans to open a microbrewery. The former banker took up jobs in finance while nurturing a hobby of home brewing. Unlike in the United States, equipment and ingredients were hard to come by. He used tubs and tubes from Crawford market and Chor Bazaar to make beer in his bathroom, which eventually drew him to the idea of starting a business. After a two-year-long struggle to get licences for making craft beers in the city, Kroitzsh says his establishment likes to celebrate everything that is seemingly impossible - including barking deer, flying pigs and the idea of "getting buzzed and doing good".

For the day of the launch, chefs Parag and Ashwin have created a menu with honey-based dishes. Among them are ravioli made using thin slices of ham with a honey butter emulsion instead of pasta, turkish vegetable stew with honey dressed cous cous and an assortment of tarts. All proceeds from the first day of the sale go towards UTMT's social initiative. The beer is priced at Rs 300 a glass and Rs 1,000 a pitcher.

The producers of Tribal Gold were the first batch of farmers to be trained in 2009 and this initiative is expected to open a new avenue for them. While Kroitzsh's purchase will provide a sustainable market and higher price for their honey, the farmers of Valsad will, in turn, be adding a sparkle to beer mugs in Mumbai.

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First Published: Sat, August 16 2014. 21:22 IST