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FSSAI may give relief to craft brewers on yeast count

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BENGALURU: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) may allow, at least for the time being, craft breweries to continue making beer with higher yeast content than its newly prescribed norms, which come into effect from April 1.

The move comes following a meeting of the scientific panel of the regulator with the Craft Brewers Association of India (CBAI) earlier this week, where the latter presented its views on the yeast count and said it was difficult to operate under the limits ordered by the regulator. They said the new standards do not improve food safety for the consumer. FSSAI has been concerned that yeast count above the prescribed limit may make the beer unsafe.

The concern stems from the fact that beer, if not stored properly, may develop “yeast and mould” contaminants. But brewers say that the storage is done in safe conditions and containers are deoxidised so that the beer does not come in contact with the external atmosphere.

The regulator, in a gazette notification last year, had said that regular beer or lager should be free of yeast while draught beer should have yeast content of at most 40 CFU (colony-forming units). The notification does not put craft beer into a separate category, which had put the breweries in a tizzy as many craft beers have yeast content as high as 3 million CFU. A variety of craft beer makers have emerged across India in recent years, including Simba, Bira, White Rhino, Toit, Arbor Brewing Company, and White Owl.

While the meeting had no outcome immediately, the panel is expected to present its views soon. “We will wait for the panel to make recommendations and till the time they do, craft brewers can continue producing beer like they have been doing,” FSSAI chief executive Pawan Agarwal said.

The brewers had wanted a clarification whether yeast was being classified as a contaminant or a raw material, one that is a basic ingredient in a beer.

Normal beer undergoes filtration and pasteurisation to reduce the yeast content, a process not applicable for craft beers. The nature and quantity of yeast gives the craft beer, and especially wheat beer, a fruity profile and a light spicy, pepper like character, thus distinguishing it from normal beer.

Wheat beer, both German and Belgian, have emerged as the largest selling drink for many microbreweries in India. If the FSSAI’s rules were to be implemented, it would be a significant hit on the craft brewing industry.

The CBAI has said that in countries such as Germany, UK, Canada and US, there is no limit to the yeast count in beer. Germany’s Hefeweizen typically contains 10 million CFU/ml yeast, while cask ale in the UK is specified to contain at least 100,000 CFU/ml yeast. In Italy, beers that are filtered and pasteurised is not classified as craft beer. “It is not that wheat beer cannot be produced with low yeast content, but then the product will no longer be authentic,” said a microbrewery owner.

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