The nation of India has a bit of an unexpected relationship with beer. It’s one of the world’s most populous nations, but India historically hasn’t been a market that consumed a lot of beer, at least per capita. Much of this is due to the simple fact that so many Indian citizens abstain from alcohol entirely, for either religious or cultural reasons—somewhere in the neighborhood of two-thirds of all Indians, in fact, report that they don’t consume alcohol. The beers that are most popular in India, meanwhile, tend to be high-gravity, bang-for-your buck lagers that in the U.S. would almost be qualified as something like malt liquor. This has begun to change in the last decade, however, as overall beer consumption and production has risen rapidly in India though the 2010s, on the back of the craft beer movement. There, as in so many other countries, a younger and more socially liberal and affluent generation has wanted to explore a wider variety of beer flavors.
Little of this beer ultimately makes its way to the U.S., meaning that American consumers largely end up associating “Indian beer” with only a couple of globally distributed macro lager brands, such as Kingfisher and Taj Mahal. It was this overall lack of market penetration and diversity that intrigued brothers Van and Sumit Sharma, Indian-American residents of Maine who dreamed of launching their own lager reflecting their Indian heritage, but targeted at the American market. That new beer brand is Rupee, which the brothers hope is poised for massive expansion in 2022. It’s a bold dream, considering the predominant whiteness of the American craft beer space in particular, where more than 93% of all brewery owners identify as white.
Van and Sumit Sharma are the scions of restaurateurs, as their family has operated several Indian restaurants in various Maine cities over the course of three decades. They designed Rupee, the flagship lager, to be consumed in this context, alongside spice-laden Indian cuisine. As they put it:
This also paired with us wanting to create a recipe which was developed by folks in the Indian restaurant space specially for enjoying with a spicy vindaloo, and hearty punjabi tandoori dishes—we brought down the carbonation levels to not be as gassy as other lagers so you don’t feel as heavy after enjoying your favorite curry. We used rice and maize and specific hops to get the correct tasting notes we were after with months of testing- and also are easy to drink and super smooth compared to other Indian lagers. We like to think of Rupee being smooth like an ale and refreshing like a lager.
Ruppee, currently brewed in Massachusetts by Dorchester Brewing Co., is effectively an adjunct lager with some unusual qualities, as the Sharmas suggest. It features both rice and maize as adjuncts, while it also has a toned-down carbonation level. This makes sense to me, as a more intense and “prickly” sense of carbonation can be unpleasant while your mouth is burning from chile spice in particular. The tagline is that Rupee is pitched as “the global beer for curry.”
So with that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this unusual adjunct lager stacks up.
On the nose, the first thing one notes with Rupee is that this doesn’t seem to have been designed for maximum inoffensiveness or neutrality. Instead, it actually has a fairly rich lager nose, with significant corny sweetness and cereal notes—very Corn Flakes-esque, in fact. At the same time, there are hop traces to be found as well, manifesting as subtle grassy and floral notes. All in all, it smells like a pretty full-bodied lager with a real grain-forward vibe.
This ends up being quite accurate on the palate. I’m getting sweet cereal notes up front, significant corniness, combined with some floral essence and mild bitterness on the back end. One might expect a beer like this to present as very dry and crisp, especially with two different adjuncts involved, but instead it channels more of the sweetness of the corn than any dryness. Likewise, there’s more body than you’d probably expect, and a mouthfeel that actually seems slightly creamy, perhaps thanks to the lower carbonation. There’s a slight apple-like fruitiness as well, but mostly this is driven by clean and sweet impressions of malt and cereals, with a restrained hop flourish.
All in all, the experience of Rupee is a bit odd, but not unpleasant. It’s not the ultra-crisp or refreshing lager that one might expect it to be—instead, there’s more heft and substance to this one. Whether it can find a market as a beer of choice for lovers of Indian cuisine in the U.S. remains to be seen.
Brewery: Rupee Beer (Dorchester Brewing Co.)
Style: Adjunct lager
Availability: 16 oz cans
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.