Golden with a whiteish tinge to it. A near-perfect cloudy texture. A medium head. A pleasant, subtle explosion triggered by Sevillian orange peel. And to round it all off, a surprisingly satisfying aftertaste of Himalayan coriander.
For those wondering, I’m quaffing a tall glass of the new Mahou Maestra Wheat beer, the Spanish brewer’s first attempt at producing a Belgian-style wheat variant. For years, weissbier (the German version) and witbier (the Belgian cousin) were abandoned in favour of the more easily available lagers — wheat in Europe, after all, was reserved for just the oven for many decades. A fondness for oddball, aromatic flavours has seen wheat beer make a comeback of sorts in recent times; young urban Indians seem to have become obsessed with it in particular.
The Mahou Maestra (“master” in Spanish) looks certifiably wheat: unlike a lager, it is unfiltered, a trait that contributes in a big way to its hazy appearance; it is infused with a gentle citric acidity; a versatile spice is very much at the heart of it; and it cools and refreshes like nothing else.
“We wanted to come up with something that was unique, something designed for the Indian customer,” says Angel Chicharro Sevilla, Mahou’s master brewer. “Here we have a quality wheat beer that is ideal for the summer.” The Mahou Maestra Wheat’s launch in Gurugram earlier this week was its first unveiling anywhere in the world. It will be manufactured in India.
What makes wheat beers excellent summertime beverages is their ability to pair well with pretty much everything on the dinner table — from tikka to pizza. Sevilla suggests I try the Maestra Wheat with tapas, traditional Spanish appetisers that can include anything from olives to calamari. “It fuses well with different cuisines, something that lagers sometimes struggle to do,” he says.
Wheat beers can be tedious to brew. There are too many biological processes that have to be followed and managed to perfection. For the Mahou Maestra Wheat, Sevilla tells me that finding the right yeast strain was the biggest challenge. In addition to its role in the fermentation process, yeast produces byproducts that influence the fruitiness and aroma of the beer. “Brewing any kind of beer is difficult, but with wheat beer, it is tougher because more elements are involved,” explains Sevilla. The kick of coriander at the end, he says, was to add a distinctively “Indian” touch to the beer. “The orange was always there. Coriander is a very Indian spice; it just had to be a part of this beer.”
The hugely popular Bira White, which has taken the Indian market by storm in the past few years, uses the same two ingredients. But while Bira White offers a rather robust blend of orange and coriander that smacks your senses instantly, the Maestra Wheat prides itself on more subdued flavours. If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with abnormally good olfactory organs, you can also experience a whiff of banana if you sniff the beer really closely.
But while the Maestra Wheat will recharge and soothe you, it will not dazzle or enormously excite you. Great beers are defined by their potential to leave you surprised. A late comer to the wheat beer trend, India still produces variations that are barely variations — all have the tendency to taste eerily similar. Over the years, a number of legendary Bavarian weissbiers have popularised the use of unusual ingredients such as banana, chocolate, bubble gum and clove. Some witbiers, apart from predominantly using orange and coriander, also experiment with spices like nutmeg. Given the unripe nature of the Indian market, commercial beer-makers here are yet to display the boldness needed to implement such quirkiness.
For now, the frothy goodness of the Maestra Wheat, available in 330 ml and 500 ml packs, is an enjoyable alternative. It is a crisp, well-crafted beer that will delight your taste buds and leave you in high spirits.
The Mahou Maestra Wheat is available in Gurugram for Rs 180 and Rs 120 in the 500 ml and 330 ml variants, respectively.