Craft beer brewers bet big on India market

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The cult around microbreweries and craft beer is growing. Once you have had this, you will never have that yellow fizzy industrial stuff they call beer, says craft beer evangelist and entrepreneur Greg Koch as he extolls the virtues of crafted beer. The craft beer brewing fraternity from Mumbai and Pune swore to fight for independence from boring ‘industrial beer’ and introduce people to the flavours of real beer made by real people.

Koch is CEO and co-founder of Stone Brewing Co., the eighth largest craft-brewing company in the US. Their’s was the 800th microbrewery in the US when he started, but now is among the fastest growing and there are 4,400 brewers of craft beer in the US currently. Stone Brewing is the first American craft brewer to own and operate a brewery in Europe as they start operations in Berlin, Germany. He is also handholding start-ups in the Indian microbrewery space. He has invested in, Independence Brewing Co., a microbrewery in India based in Pune, and was here to support fellow brewers. There are at present 10 microbreweries based in Maharashtra and Koch doffed his hat to them for starting the craft beer revolution in India amidst a challenging alcohol regulatory regime.

Listening to Koch were entrepreneurs who have set up microbreweries across Mumbai and Pune, dozens of home brewers and fans of the craft beers. This was a first-of-its-kind industry meet-up, with eight microbreweries under one roof, with nearly 20 craft beers on tap in one single place. There was a ‘Beer Bus’ that brought in guests from Mumbai to Pune and back, so that they could spend an evening with Koch and some good beer.

The big names in the craft beer business were there with Independence Brewing Company hosting this infant industry meet. Independence Brewing brought together Gateway Brewing Co. (Mumbai), Doolally (Pune/Mumbai), Effingut Brewerkz (Pune), TJ (Pune), The Barking Deer (Mumbai), The White Owl (Mumbai), Irish Village (Pune) and Brewbot (Mumbai) all under one roof showcasing 20 craft beers on tap.

This is only a beginning, says Shailendra Bist, CEO and co-founder of Independence Brewing. California alone has 320 craft beer brewers, he points out. Bist says there could be around 150 microbreweries in the country in the next five years. People are sick of drinking the same stuff, so craft beer followers are increasing and it will grow as more craft brewers come; this is happening mostly by word of mouth and very little promotion, says Bist.

Doolally. which pioneered the microbrewery concept in India in 2009 and worked hard at getting regulators to allow microbreweries to operate in the country, is expanding. After running the microbrewery in Pune, Doolally has opened to outlets in Mumbai at Bandra and Andheri. Suketu Talekar, co-founder, Doolally, says this business needs patience as radical reform on alcohol will not happen in the country easily as delinking craft beer from IMFL or toddy will take time. “Whatever has happened so far is encouraging and it has attracted well meaning high quality entrepreneurs,” says Talekar.

Players from Pune are now going to Mumbai as it is a bigger market. A few Bengaluru-based brewers are looking at coming to Mumbai and Pune. Delhi has jut opened up licensing and a couple of microbreweries are in the works.

Koch too admires the work done by Indian brewers considering the perception issues here about alcohol and the uphill battle in the country.

“It is not just about beer but about a cultural shift,” says Koch, but he is bullish about the prospects of this business in India. “I see amazing potential,” says Koch.

What’s brewing

* In a first-of-its-kind industry meet, eight microbreweries recently came under one roof in Maharashtra
* The big names in the craft beer business including Gateway Brewing Co. (Mumbai), Doolally (Pune/Mumbai), Effingut Brewerkz (Pune), TJ (Pune), The Barking Deer (Mumbai), The White Owl (Mumbai), Irish Village (Pune) and Brewbot (Mumbai) were among the participants

* There are at present 10 microbreweries based in Maharashtra