How to drink beer in India

Anyone who has been to India, or any developing country for that matter, can attest to the difficulties and pleasures of having a nice cold beer. Drinking in India is more complicated than it is in the North America or Europe. Although it’s certainly possible to have a good beer here, one is much more likely to get a bad brew.

The single most important factor when purchasing beer in India is deciding between bottles and cans. In the US, bottled beer is typically more expensive than canned beer – it is also supposedly tastier and of better quality. The reason for this is that the aluminum used for making most cans oxidizes and slowly contaminates the beer with which it is in contact (sidenote: stainless steel cans and beers using nitrogen gas instead of CO2 (think Guinness) avoid this problem, but are much more expensive). Usually this is not a big deal, because in order to taste the difference, a can would have to be sitting on a shelf for a very long time. But still, American consumers are willing to pay a premium for knowing that the glass bottles have not adulterated their beer at all, even if they can’t taste the difference.

In India, however, the situation is the complete reverse. And it has to do with transportation and storage. Ideally, a beer should be brought to consumers through an effective cold chain (a temperature controlled supply system) – when unbroken, it is good, when interrupted, it is bad. Although beer does not require a true refrigerated cold chain (the way milk does), it must be insulated from heat and light to preserve quality.

In countries like the US that have good transportation and storage infrastructure, one can be confident that the beer sitting on the store shelf has not gone through repeated temperature changes. India, by comparison, has a poor supply chain. Although it’s easy to know when a beer was manufactured (all Indian beers have the date on the bottle or can), it is difficult to know how it was handled along the way. It is much more likely that an Indian beer experiences irregular temperature and exposure to light.

But what does light have to do with this? Ever wonder why most beer bottles are dark? This is to limit the amount of light entering the bottle, which would increase the temperature. Think of it like a mini greenhouse – light goes in and traps heat inside. The fact that Corona bottles are clear is a testament to the company’s confidence that their beer will always be fresh. Either that or those Mexicans just don’t care what you think. A can, on the other hand, would not let in any light, thereby maintaining a more consistent environment for the beer.

Cans good, bottles bad (in India)

In conclusion, if you are living in a part of the world with a reliable and effective beer supply chain, it really doesn’t matter whether you get cans or bottles. For most casual drinkers, the decision is more social and psychological than anything related to taste. If you’re living in a part of the world with a less than superb beer supply chain, opt for the cans – they are more likely to have treated the beer well on its journey to your mouth. If you’re not sure what type of country you are living in, drink whiskey instead.


3 responses to “How to drink beer in India

  1. (the question on everyone’s mind) how does one order a beer? in hindi? in english? hand gestures? smoke signals?

  2. Reblogged this on MRCYRIAC GOES TO WASHINGTON and commented:

    As many of you know, I live in Delhi now. In case you ever visit, here’s a little tip for drinking beer that I wrote for my lady’s Delhi blog.

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