British India Greets the English Pub. Part V.

Nilgiri Brewery ca. 1900: Strength, Other Traits of its Beer

This Part V, and Part VI that follows, will complete this series. (Part VI deals with a pub resisted by the native local community).

This Part will elucidate brewing characteristics in 1900 not just for Nilgiri Brewery, but also the Castle, and Rose and Crown breweries, two others in the Nilgiri Hills then. The area formed part of the Fort St. George, aka Madras, Presidency, an administrative unit of British India.

Extracts below are from the Report of the Administration of the Abkari Revenue for the Presidency of Fort St. George, for the Year 1899-1900. It tells us much. The breweries were now either owned or controlled effectively by Messrs. Rungiah Gownden (spelling varies in different accounts).

Thomas Leishman returns to the picture later, capped by the 1915 merger that formed United Breweries.



Starting gravities varied as noted between 1055 and 1065, below the maximum of 1073 permitted by excise rules.

In the table below possibly an average of different beers’ production is shown for each month but it seems not, likely the (India) pale ale is shown for Nilgiri Brewery. One can see the beer was on the dry side, about 1008 final gravity with some months higher, 1010, say, some yet lower.

The table runs from April to March but omitting June and August, the months are stated at the extreme left of the table (see in link above).

I didn’t calculate an abv average for Nilgiri Brewery, but it seems about 7% abv, with the beers lower somewhat in the colder months. Hence strength remained consistent since 1883 but more alcohol was being gained from less malt.

This makes sense considering the financial situation of these breweries, always more parlous than the Himalayan breweries, and resulting after all in the merger of 1915.

Other points of note: some sugar was now being used, glucose, with the malt. Non-European beer produced by these breweries used yet more sugar, the jaggery still known today for some brewing, and comparatively little malt.

The Presidencies might exclude beer from another district if felt inferior – this happened here with Bangalore beer, yet Nilgiri beer was well-liked in that district.

In the 1890s, eg, October 23, 1893 in Bangalore Spectator, Nilgiri Brewery advertised two beers: “sparkling pale ale” and “Continental Pale Ale”, the latter having the “delicacy” of “Continental pilsener” without the “excessive lightness”.

Perhaps the Nilgiri Continental Pale Ale was weaker than its IPA, but this is unclear.

The sparkling pale ale likely is the beer shown  in the table below, descendant of the IPA of 1883.

The 1900 Report states that the end gravities are lower than for Britain, although not necessarily Scotland. Leaving Scotland aside, data for 1890s Whitbread pale ales compiled by Ron Pattinson bears this out. Differences for average starting gravity and alcohol content are apparent as well.


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