Indian beer: Fresh & frothy

Written by Abhishek Chakraborty | Updated: Jun 22 2014, 07:46am hrs
BeerAs per industry estimates, the market for finely-crafted beer in India currently ranges between Rs 75 crore and Rs 125 cr annually.
TILL RECENTLY, Indian tipplers were exposed to only one kind of beerthe commercial lager. More often than not, the frothy brew they drank was dominated by brands such as Kingfisher and Haywards 5000, as well as a couple of imported but expensive ones such as Corona and Singha thrown in for good measure. It didnt matter what they were consuming, which was mostly in the bottled avatar, as long as the brew was strong with a high content of alcohol.

All that is changing now, with a number of microbreweries springing up across the country and promoting the concept of freshly-brewed beer, or craft beer as it is widely known the world over, among beer enthusiasts in India. With as many as 39 microbreweries, as per some reports, currently doing business in India across cities such as Bangalore, Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Pune, and producing anything between 5,000 and 50,000 litres of craft beer a day, Indian tipplers are raising a toast to a new beer culture.

These microbreweries are giving people the option to have a kind of beer that is not only fresh, but healthy too, if some claims are to be believed. In effect, what craft beer entrepreneurs are trying to do with beer is what sommeliers have done with Indian wine, and desi e-commerce websites such as Jabong and Myntra are doing with Indian fashion cater to the choices of an average metro consumer who is on the lookout for a world-class product to satiate his ever-widening palate.

On a high

As per industry estimates, the market for finely-crafted beer in India currently ranges between R75 crore and R125 crore annually. Sanjay Mathur, owner of the two-year-old microbrewery, 7-degree Brauhaus, in Gurgaon, predicts the number of microbreweries in the country to rise to 150 from the current 39 in the next two years, as an increasing number of craft beer enthusiasts are warming up to the concept.

Two years ago, beer consumption in India was less than one litre per capita per annum. Today, the demand has grown to two litres per capita per annum. In the next three to five years, it will grow to 10-15 litres per capita per annum, says Mathur. Since its launch, 7-degree Brauhaus has grown 25-30% on a year-on-year basis, he adds.

The Millennium City got its first taste of microbreweries in 2007, when Howzatt opened to the public and started making fresh and delicious craft beer. Since then, there has been no looking back. The city is already witnessing a revolution of sorts, with more and more people getting hooked on to the concept of freshly-brewed beer. Today, Gurgaon alone has 12 microbreweries.

Amit Jakhar, director, food and beverages, Galaxy Hotel, which houses Howzatt, says the one reason why microbreweries are faring well is that the beer offered is always fresh. The difference between a microbrewery and a pub is that the former brews its own craft beer and serves it directly from the taps to its patrons and customers, whereas a pub serves all kinds of liquor and normally bottled beer. Also, a microbrewery brews only that much beer that is to be consumed by its customers. Hence, it is always fresh, he explains.

At 7-degree Brauhaus in Gurgaon, a German microbrewery plant, the machinery is an integral part of its interiors and the beer is handcrafted by a German brewmaster on the sitehence its called craft beer. The beers on offer are 7-degree Lager, 7-degree Wheat, 7-degree Special and 7-degree Premium. At the microbrewery, the equipment has been imported from Germany at a cost of about R4 crore, and it takes about 21 days to brew each variety of beer using imported ingredients.

Noticeably, there is a shift in the countrys drinking culture from hard liquor to beer and wines. It is because people are well-travelled and are appreciating beer. The growing number of microbreweries is only going to have a compound effect on the beer-drinking culture in India, says Mathur of 7-degree Brauhaus.

7-degree Brauhaus customers mostly comprise senior executives and CEOs who are above 30 years of age. Its a place for a little affluent set of drinkers who are ready to spend some amount of money on a good beer. It is also on the wish-list of many young enthusiasts who cant afford to spend that much on beer, adds Mathur.

Suketu Talekar, co-founder of Doolally in Pune, started the microbrewery in 2009 to fix the broken beer market in India. What do you do if somethings broken You fix it. We believe that beer in this country is brokenwhat is sold in bottles, cans and taps across the country is, at best, a broad, and a bad, approximation of beer, adds Talekar. All the equipment at Doolally has been imported from Europe.

On the other hand, Gaurav Sikka, who started Arbor Brewing Company in Bangalore in 2012, wanted to recreate the atmosphere and culture of American craft beer in India. Being an avid craft beer enthusiast during my time in the US, I felt the void upon my return to India in 2010. Around that time, brewpubs were beginning to get legalised across the country, but I still felt it would be nice to set up a true American-style craft brewery, says Sikka.

Sikkas pub was set up in partnership with a brewery

of the same name in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Sikka studied and got the inspiration for his business. It sells mainly US-style drinks, but with a nod to local tastesincluding its Mango Maibock brew, an Indian take on a German lager, using the fruit. The brewery was designed in the US, but was manufactured and integrated locally.

Craft vs bottled

What distinguishes craft beer from its bottled counterpart are apparently its health benefits, say experts. In bottled beer, the manufacturer has to filter all the proteins and add preservatives, glycerin and starch with additional alcohol, whereas in a truly German crafted beer, the law says one cant add more than four ingredients to itwater, malt, hops and yeastexplains Mathur of 7-degree Brauhaus.

It is healthier because of the fact that it has the right amount of yeast and protein required for the body. It is said that if you have one mug of craft beer, it is equivalent to a glass of protein shake, he adds.

Agrees Talekar of Doolally. One must understand that people who make industrial beer follow some simple rulesmake the beer as tasteless as possible and as cheaply as possible. As a result, the beer isnt exactly the vibrant symphony of flavours that a real beer should be, but a broad approximation of beer, which is why they can charge barely anything for a bottle of beer, he says.

The other differentiator, perhaps the most important at least in a country such as India, is the price. When one can buy a Kingfisher Strong (650 ml) for R80 (Delhi price) or a Budweiser (650 ml) for R110 (Delhi price), are Indians ready to pay that extra buck for craft beer While Doolally charges R200 for a pint of beer, Howzatt charges R280 for 550ml and R615 for a pitcher (1,600 ml). Arbor sells beer for R175-225 for 330 ml and R225-275 for 500 ml, while 7-degree Brauhaus charges R335 for 500 ml of freshly-brewed beer.

However, craft beer pundits are quick to justify the high price. Talekar of Doolally says craft beer is more expensive to brew, the ingredients are handpicked and sourced from various parts of the world, hence the higher price tag.

While their hops are sourced from the storied regions of Bavaria, our apples are from Himachal Pradesh and our malts usually imported. When we brew special beers like the Millet Beer, Karvand Cider and Jaggery Ale, we handpick local ingredients like bajra, gur, karvand and mango, he says.

Mathur of 7-degree Brauhaus adds: We dont compare ourselves with bottled beers like Kingfisher or Fosters. When it comes to international beers like Erdinger, it is sold at R400-450 for a pint in most good restaurants, whereas we charge R335 (excluding taxes) for half a litre of craft beer.

Taste of the times

Ask Sikka of Arbor Brewing Company what makes a microbrewery a go-to place for the weekends and he says it is the wide variety of beers that excites people. Our Hefeweizen and Belgian Tripel are the most popular beers mainly because they are light, refreshing, easy to drink and not very bitter (they dont use too many hops). The Tripel is especially popular because it is a strong beerwith 8% alcohol by volume (ABV), he says.

The menu for fresh beer changes regularly at the Bangalore brew house. The equipment that was imported from the US churns out the different varieties of beer before new combinations are attempted locally. The microbrewery has served over 40 different beers since it opened in 2012. Its connection with the US also helps it rely upon tried-and-tested recipes.

As a typical offering, we would usually have the following styles on offer:Hefeweizen, Blonde Ale, IPA, German Lager, Stout, Belgian Ale and a special concoction or two to go with these, adds Sikka.

The same goes for Striker Pub & Brewery, another microbrewery based in Gurgaon, which produces four different kinds of brews, namely Jazzy Rice, Country Pilsner, Weiss Blues and Rock Bock, which has a slightly higher alcoholic content of 5-5.5%. Hemant Nautiyal, general manager of the establishment, says the beer variety that is the most popular is Rice Beer as it tastes different than the others.

For Doolally in Pune, Hefeweizen (German Wheat Beer) and Apple Cider are a staple, available all year round. People drive 200 km from Mumbai just for a pitcher of one of these beauties. While there are some serious dark beer/ stout fans in Mumbai and Pune, using unique local ingredients has now become the centrepiece of our future plans. Almost once every quarter, we brew a beer that has a unique local twist, adds Talekar.