A Birmingham restaurateur was so frustrated at the lack of a craft beer to complement Indian food he decided to team-up with a Midland microbrewery to create his own.
Raj Rana, managing director of Itihaas Group, joined forces with the Lion Heart brewery in Coventry, and the partnership has resulted in Sambha IPA.
The bottled beer is described as mildly sweet, with subtle hints of malt, hoppy in flavour, with fruity notes of citrus and pineapple - a taste created in part by the special citra hops used as an ingredient.
Itihaas Group has two dining establishments in Birmingham city centre, a fine dining restaurant in the heart of the business district and a brasserie based in Selfridges’ food hall in the Bullring.
Sambha IPA, which has been created specifically for the Selfridges restaurant, is a bespoke creation specifically designed to be enjoyed with the rich variety of flavours in Indian cuisine.
Explaining how the idea came about Mr Rana said: “Really it came out of frustration - frustration that the right product wasn’t there.
“There are a few beers that regard themselves as the beers of choice for Indian food but they are either too gassy or too hoppy.
“I just felt the right product didn’t exist in terms of a suitable beer.
Mr Rana set about searching for a brewer he could work with but that proved no easy feat.
“We approached several brewers and it wasn’t an easy process,” he added.
“Others were trying to get us to have an existing product but Lion Heart were prepared to work with us on small batch quantities and were adaptable.
“When we did the taste test we felt we had the right product.
“They also allowed our chef Updesh Shrivast to go in and work alongside them and cook. He was cooking alongside the beer taste tests.
“Developing the brew took nine months and was a joint effort between Lion Heart’s master brewer and my chef.”
Mr Rana said he was delighted with the result.
He said: “Sambha has been brewed specifically to be paired with Indian food.
“It has quite a lemon zesty tinge which cleanses the palate at the end.
“It has ben a real labour of love for me.
“Itihaas is quite innovative, which is how we have ended up at Selfridges, we are quite forward-thinking when it comes to our food.
“I am happy to put the Indian stamp on this as it is fresh, unique and innovative, as is the food we serve.
“It is the right beer that goes with Indian food, given all the flavours in Indian cuisine, though I don’t know how it goes with a Sunday roast.
“There hasn’t been a product out there that matches the amount of passion that goes into Indian food - and I’m not just talking about my restaurant but the whole region - we have got some really talented individuals.
“This won’t fail the food by being an inferior beer product - that is not the case any more.
Sambha is an IPA or India Pale Ale, a popular style of beer that emerged in the colonial Subcontinent during the days of the British Raj.
In a nod to more recent history the ale is named after a 1970s Bollywood movie villain.
He is depicted on the Sambha bottle label in a style which emulates Bollywood film posters of that era.
Mr Rana also feels there is plenty of demand for such a product, particularly in Birmingham.
“I think there is a big movement in Birmingham for craft beer and Birmingham has always been in love with Indian food,” he said.
“All I am doing is marrying the two together.
“I feel this is not just a craft beer for Indian food but the craft beer for Indian food.”
Speaking about his role, Lion Heart’s head brewer Carl Marshall said: “The recipe was developed to complement the rich and spicy aromas of Itihaas’s cuisine. It is dry but fruity, and refreshes the palate while packing real subtlety and depth of flavour.”
Explaining the choice of name, Mr Rana added: “Sambha was an iconic, carefree villain who always had a beer in his hand while sitting in the sun. So he was the obvious choice for a refreshing beer that’s perfect for summer.”
Sambha IPA will be launched at Selfridges on Sunday May 31, when Itihaas chefs will serve-up Indian cuisine to go with the beer at a special free event.
Mr Rana said Sambha IPA might make some ‘cameo appearances’ at Itihaas’s main restaurant, though only for special occasions.