Lager than life
A woman brewer from Indiana, in Mumbai for a talent exchange programme, believes brewing is as much an art as it's a science
Biochemist Allison Higi got into brewing by accident. After graduating from Purdue University, Indiana, following a career in medicine seemed like the obvious choice. But, life had other plans. "After graduating in biology and chemistry, I went to work at a hospital. It was a depressing place, it just didn't feel right [for me]. A friend suggested I work at his brewery as a steward. After serving beer for a while, the brewer was let go of and I was asked to step in."
These days, Higi, 40, is on a beer trial in Mumbai and Pune, as part of the Crafter's movement, a talent exchange programme organised by Powai's Crafters Taphouse, where brewers from across the world are invited to prepare their signature styles. Allison will brew two special beers from locally sourced ingredients from both, Indiana and India, which will make it to the menu. The concoctions are classified as cantaloupe IPA. "Cantaloupe is a fruit native to my home state [Indiana], and IPAs are the most popular style of beer there. The sweetness of the fruit pairs well with the bitterness of the IPA," she explains. The second brew is a fig porter that uses a variety native to Maharashtra. The result, says Higi, is an unmistakably dark brew with rich, roasty undertones.
As a scientist, what Higi finds fascinating about brewing is the biochemical processes. "It's almost like using biology and chemistry to create art. I see it as an energy transfer. I use my energy to make great beer and people gain energy from drinking it," she says. As a beer drinker, she tends to gravitate towards light lagers for their "simple flavours, and complex brewing procedure." "Light lagers are delicate beers. They require a longer process time because these beers don't have a lot of hops or dark malts, and that calls for perfect processing. Any slip up will be evident in the final product." She admits that explaining the engineering side of brewing can be tricky, because a lot of her work happens in remote regions, and language becomes a barrier.
Incidentally, Higi was the first full-time female brewer in the state of Iowa. Her work, although challenging in a male-dominated industry, has allowed her access to small, community-based breweries, whose work she finds inspiring. "Brewing beer is an ancient art that, for most part, of the last two hundred years has been industrialised by giant macro breweries. It's good to see the resurgence of small breweries. Brewing is a localised art, from the ingredients to the water that goes into it."
Her India visit, too, has been full of pleasant surprises. "Here, beer drinkers are more adventurous. They are willing to try bold, niche flavours. It's interesting to see the variations in what people like. It's what makes my work fun."
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