|Kronenbourg Blanc, with its distinctive citrusy notes,|
was the favourite of all those who tasted the French
beer at Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi
By Sourish Bhattacharyya
FOR THE discerning drinker, beer conjures up images of lager louts breaking into an orgiastic frenzy at football stadiums, not a brew to be had within the rarefied confines of Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi’s chic rooftop restaurant. I have never been a great fan of Le Cirque, despite the magnificent views its offers, because there’s a clear disconnect (or so I came to believe after my previous meals there) between the prices it charges and the goods it delivers.
This past Wednesday I had one of my most memorable dinners of the year in the company of people I didn’t know (with the exception of the bright and immaculately attired Magandeep Singh), with a drink I normally don’t drink, except after a long day spent tasting wine.
The beer was Kronenbourg, the French beer acquired by the Carlsberg Group after it got a part of Scottish & Newcastle’s operations in the elaborate April 2008 deal that saw the Edinburgh-headquartered company being divided between Heineken and the Danish company. The world’s fifth oldest beer brand that still exists gets its full name, Kronenbourg 1664, from the year of the founding of the brewery in Strasbourg, France, the capital city of Alsace now famous for being the home of the European Parliament.
Brasseries Konenbourg was the brewery that Geronimus Hatt opened in 1664, but the institution acquired its present name only in 1850 after it moved to Cronenbourg, an area of Strasbourg. Today, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, Kronenbourg — by the way, it is the top premium beer brand in France commanding a 40 per cent market share in its home country — is produced in the Alsatian town of Obernai along with 300 other beers. Well, that’s how the beer business is organised in the world!
It is this pale lager that we started the proceedings with at Le Cirque over a conversation steered by Subodh Marwah, Marketing Director, Carlsberg India. He said the beer gets its distinctive taste from the hops that go into it. The strisselspalt, he said, with its distinctive floral aroma is the “caviar of hops” and a native of Alsace. And we know that Carlsberg takes its hops seriously — the three artistically represented leaves you see on its brand identity are hops. The “fundamental” ingredient of beer, though, is yeast — the one that goes into Carlsberg travels to each of the 106 countries where the beer is produced, so each of the six breweries the company operates in India (a seventh one is coming up in Bihar) uses the same yeast.
The brew we loved was the Kronenbourg Blanc, a wheat beer with addictive citrusy notes that kept drawing us back to it. It went along merrily with the four-course meal — Le Cirque’s signature Caesar’s salad; porcini risotto with a beetroot emulsion whose taste lingered on the palate; chunky chicken escalope in mushroom sauce; and the inimitable Floating Island. Marwah said the brand strategy for Kronenbourg is to reach out to a “very select audience” and introduce it to the beer through Sunday brunches at five-star hotels and pairing with food. Well, this was one beer and food match that seemed to have been made in heaven.
Before I sign off, let me share with you some of the interesting beer market facts that Marwah told us about.
* Chandigarh has the highest per capita consumption of beer — five litres per person, compared with the national average of two litres per person.
* India, minus Tamil Nadu (for some reason I couldn’t get a grip on, the state is kept out of the count), produces 1,800 million litres of beer in a year.
* Ours is an overwhelmingly strong beer-loving country — within three years, strong beers will constitute 90 per cent of the market.
* Andhra Pradesh is the largest beer market and it is the fastest-growing too.
* Carlsberg has the third largest share of the Indian market, after Kingfisher (50 per cent) and SABMiller India, the subsidiary of the South Africa-based global behemoth that makes strong beers such as Haywards and Knockout in the country.