If you are in Bengaluru, the beer you sip in the city’s microbreweries may very soon be made out of the humble millet, rather than the traditional barley. This, thanks to the Karnataka government’s push to promote millets.
But the introduction of this nutritious grain in the beer mug happened a few years ago.
One of the first to experiment with millets in Bengaluru is Toit, a popular brewery.
“We have been experimenting with millets for three to four years now. We brew a special beer around this time which also coincides with the harvest festival of Sankranti. So as a tribute to that we have been brewing a special millet beer and mixing it with jaggery,” Sibi Venkataraju, co-founder of the pub tells TNM.
But millets have not completely taken over just yet. Sibi says, “As of now, we are still doing experiments and have not reached a stage where we can fully replace imported barley malt with millets. The Namma Beeru (our beer) we have, has 30% of millet brew.”
As beer is traditionally brewed from barley, Indian breweries have to import malt from abroad.
The push now to make beer out of millets has come from none other than the state Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda.
“Recently, the Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda met with craft beer makers like us. He is keen to see how we can further the use of millets,” Sibi explains.
The Agriculture Minister argues that using millets in the alcohol industry will benefit local farmers as most of the ingredients for beer are imported.
“Perhaps textured and diverse beers can be brewed from millets. So, it will enhance the experience of craft beer connoisseurs. We hope people will like these choices. I hope it will become a staple offering in Bengaluru craft breweries and also around the country. I commend Bengaluru brewers who are using local ingredients (that benefit vulnerable farmers) and are showing the way for rest of the country,” Gowda said in a statement on Thursday.
Bengaluru-based Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences which has done a lot of research on brewing of beer has found millet to be an ideal ingredient.
Priya Arjun, a faculty at the institute and who led the research process, says, “The little bit of barley we used is more for the carbohydrate content and not for flavour. We have found a combination of three varieties of millets—kodo, foxtail and browntop which are all locally grown to be the most suited.”
Although ragi or millet is more bitter compared to malt, experimenters believe a combining fruit and spices can mask the flavour, too win over the crowd.
“We have used a lot of locally sourced herbs, spices and fruits to create wonderful flavours of millet brewed beer which will be a favourite among those keen on exploring new flavours. Ginger and guava are the most highly rated,” she says, adding, “Why are we importing things? These locally sourced produce will reduce the cost and also help our farmers.”
This push for millets is in continuation with the Karnataka Agriculture Ministry’s sustained campaign to promote millets led by Minister Gowda.
On Friday, the minister launched a pilot initiative to introduce millets in midday meals across schools in Bengaluru.
The Agriculture Department is promoting millets as a ‘superfood’ for multiple reasons. One is to reduce farmers’ dependency on water-intensive crops such as rice and sugar, especially in drought prone regions of the state. Millets are also a healthier alternative to rice and wheat, being a low-carbohydrate, high fibre staple A dietary shift towards millets will also benefit farmers as millets does not require very fertile land or other cost-inducing inputs of fertilisers and pesticides.