A brewery venture in Calcutta (now Kolkata) was described in numerous media – consular reports, newspapers, trade journals – in 1908-1909.
The San Francisco Call in December 1908 covered the story, which you can read here.
The story contains a very interesting commentary on the fermentation system, describing a special yeast meant to work suitably at high temperatures. The account explains a small refrigeration plant would “cook” the beer prior to racking and packaging.
Every account I’ve seen repeats the same apparent typo, as cook probably was “cool” mistyped (or misprinted). One is tempted to think “cook” was correct, in the sense of beer being pasteurized. This seems implausible though in connection with refrigeration.
What seems more likely is a rapid chilling of the fermented beer to achieve precipitation of solids and sufficient clarity, perhaps in conjunction with cellulose or other filtering.
The account states the brewery was “about” to commence, and numerous German and English types of beer are described, as seen above.
Calcutta into the early 1900s had no brewery. It was one of the cities English brewers shipped I.P.A. into, from Hodgson in early days through to Allsopp and Bass from the 1820s.*
Indeed even the “hill” breweries finally established in British India later in the century could not compete in Calcutta with English imports, according to W.H. Carey in The Good old Days of Honorable John Company (1907), due to transport costs.
The evident solution was to build a brewery in Calcutta. It appears someone tried and came close to marketing beer. Was any actually sold, in other words? To date a sedulous search has revealed no evidence.
Our readers who work in the historical beer trenches might comment if they know anything useful.
As far as I know too, Carlsberg’s plant in Hooghly, near Kolkata, established in 2009, is the sole major brewery operating in Kolkata today – owned that is by one of the four or five big groups active in the Indian market. There are numerous small breweries in pubs, making a range of craft beers, but no other mass-market brewery to my knowledge.**
The beers meant for production in 1908-1909 in Calcutta clearly were not bottom-fermented. They must have been top-fermented with a yeast adapted to the high local temperatures. Some Belgian ale yeasts, especially for saison, can work at high, non-standard fermenting temperatures, c. 35 C.
Perhaps the pre-World War I venture in Calcutta relied on a yeast of this character, leaving only the hop and malt types to dictate the style parameters.
Of course true lager did finally arrive in India, apparently not until the 1960s by my canvass. I refer here not of course to imports, long available in the country, but local brewing.
The ales and stouts inherited from the first British brewers long endured in other words, well after accession to independence in 1947, but today the mass market is all or virtually all international lager style.
See now our Part II.
Note re images: first image is a detail from the original linked in text. The second, of c. 1914 Calcutta, was sourced from Wikipedia, indicated as public domain. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.
*See C.C. Owen. “The History of Brewing in Burton Upon Trent“, Journal of the Institute of Brewing (Jan.-Feb. 1987).
**See this Times of India link which source states (May 2018) there are three breweries in West Bengal. The second makes Kingfisher, the third Hayward and Budweiser. (Dhanekhali is part of Hooghly). Yet a fourth, sizable operation started up about the time this report appeared. It is Celebrity Breweries, which makes a premium brand, Kiq. For more information, see its website.