The beer factor: With the onset of summer, beer is already having its moment in the sun

From fresh flavours to new drinking trends, tipplers of all tastes are getting spoiled for choice

That it is now considered a lifestyle product is adding to the growing popularity of beer, especially among the youngsters.
That it is now considered a lifestyle product is adding to the growing popularity of beer, especially among the youngsters.

Think of a leisurely Sunday afternoon and the first thing that comes to your mind probably is a mug of chilled beer enjoyed in the company of close friends or relatives. As temperatures rise and the economy recovers from the coronavirus-induced slump, beer— perhaps one of the most widely-accepted alcoholic beverages today—is already having its moment in the sun. That it is now considered a lifestyle product is adding to the growing popularity of beer, especially among the youngsters.

While beer is generally associated with English or German pub culture, several Indian brands and breweries are now giving an Indian spin to the drink. One such welcome addition is the use of regional ingredients giving beer a flavourful punch. Recently, Indian craft beer brand Bira 91 launched four new limited-release flavours—‘Bollywood IPA’, ‘Kokum Sour’, ‘Brown Ale’, and ‘Mango Lassi’.

Launched under the ‘Imagined in India’ portfolio, the idea behind the new flavours is to “bring together the many flavours of India and its creative energy fuelled by emerging artists, entrepreneurs, and start-ups”, as per Ankur Jain, founder and CEO of Bira 91.

“For this generation of consumers, beer means flavour, and we deliver on that promise. Each beer is brewed with unusual ingredients—local and seasonal —which make them unique and bursting with flavour. Each of these flavours is sure to elevate the beer experience of Indian consumers,” adds Jain.

Bira 91 had been working on the new flavours for almost a year now. “We used to release at least one new flavour every week at our ‘Taproom’ in Koramangala, Bengaluru and get feedback from our consumers on what they liked or what they did not. That allowed us to almost co-create beers with our customers. These four beers were ideated upon in the taprooms and were voted as the top-ranked choices by beer lovers, which inspired us to bring them to consumers across the country,” explains Jain, who founded Bira 91 in 2015 that is now enjoyed in over 500 towns and cities spread across 15 countries and is brewed across four breweries in India.

In fact, one doesn’t shy away from experimenting when it comes to beer. Launched in October 2018, craft beverage brand Kati Patang now has a beer portfolio comprising four styles—‘Saffron Lager’, ‘Snappy Wheat’, ‘Zesty Amber’ and ‘Bareilly Bold’—“each distinct in its offering and highly sessionable”, as per its co-founder Lata Upadhyay.

“While Zesty Amber is a unique twist to the Amber ale style, Snappy Wheat is what we like to call the ‘Indian-wit’ style. Saffron Lager is a light-bodied golden lager with a distinctive taste and Bareilly Bold is a bold lager and celebrates the spirit of small-town India. This is a light-bodied yet bold beer with earthy notes of the Indian spring flower palash,” explains Upadhyay. Currently, Kati Patang is available in pints in seven states—Delhi, HP, Haryana, Chandigarh, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka. “We also have draft in Mumbai and Pune,” she adds.

India recently made headlines with its first airport brewery, Barley & Grapes (B&G) in Hyderabad at RGIA Aero Plaza, with a collection of The Beatles-themed craft beers. Bengaluru, home to Tonique, Asia’s largest liquor boutique, also recently welcomed another giant liquor offering. Mansionz by Living Liquidz, a luxury-style premium experiential store with a New-York style tasting room, opened up in Bengaluru to cater to the Silicon Valley’s metro crowd. Last year, Bengaluru also witnessed the entry of ‘the world’s largest microbrewery’ in Bengaluru, Ironhill India, which is also present in Visakhapatnam, Vijayawada and Hyderabad.

According to Ashwini Chaudhary, chairman and managing director of Striker Group, some of the most popular beers in India include wheat beer (with 4% alcohol), wheat beer strong (with 5% alcohol), dark beer (with 4.5-5% alcohol) and lager beer. He adds that the group’s pubs have witnessed an 80% recovery already.
Owing to the popularity of mangoes in summers, Striker is rolling out mango beers soon.

Fizzy days are here again
When Rahul Singh, founder and CEO of Indian alco-beverage chain The Beer Café, sat down to compare the records of the last three financial years to boil down the impact of Covid-19 on his business, he found a startling revelation. The numbers for March 2022 had exceeded that of March 2019. Their year-on-year recovery in 2022 was up 110% from 2019. “And that was a big motivation for us after two years,” he adds.

The numbers reflect reality. The crowd is out after being confined indoors for two summers. They want to indulge and experiment and not continue with the drinking in-house routine of the pandemic. As offices reopen and colleges go offline, colleagues and students are meeting at local bars, pubs and restaurants, socialising after two years of social distancing. This has become a major driver in the rebound of pubs and bars.

Chaudhary of Striker Group agrees that there is an eagerness of the consumer to have the club experience. “The capacity in restaurants and bars is full. There is revenge drinking. People want to see their colleagues as they have not met for a long time. The change is that people have levelled up in terms of quality. If the microbrewery or its taste is not up to the mark, they won’t come back,” he adds.

What is helping local microbreweries and Indian beer brands is the fact that beer imports in India have shrunk in the past two years due to Covid and the ongoing crisis in Europe. Brands like Hoegaarden and Corona are manufacturing in India now and there are zero imports happening. They were also very expensive because of the import duty. “We’ve truly become aatmanirbhar in that sense. I see a lot of upcoming Indian beer brands like Kati Patang coming up and doing well,” says Singh of The Beer Café.

According to market research firm Market Data Forecast, the growing demand for unique flavours, rapid urbanisation and increasing disposable incomes have positively impacted the consumption growth of the craft beer market within the Asia-Pacific. Currently, the Asia-Pacific market holds the biggest share and it’s anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 10.50% till 2027. It states that China and India are likely to possess major sales.

In February this year, Devans Modern Breweries expanded its presence in Northeast India with a brewery. Prem Dewan, managing director of Devans Modern Breweries, which launched two new brands during the pandemic—Godfather Super 8, the only Indian beer with 8% alcohol, and Six Fields Cult, a Belgian-style wheat beer in the strong beer segment— says that their brands have met with excellent response from the market despite the fact that they were introduced into the market during the pandemic. Initially introduced only in UP and Uttarakhand, the product availability is slowly being expanded to Delhi, Ladakh, Jharkhand and Northeast India.

Last year, Carlsberg India announced the launch of Tuborg White, a European styled wheat-malt brew, and entered the premium wheat beer segment. “Over the last decade, the wheat beer segment has developed wide acceptance in India with a loyal base of consumers, and this launch is an opportunity to expand this segment with the right liquid providing a consistent refreshing taste,” a spokesperson of the company said.

Jain of Bira 91 agrees that beer consumption in India considerably reduced during the peak pandemic period, and the overall industry saw a volume decline of almost 40% in 2020. However, the latter half of 2021 was optimistic for the industry, showing signs of recovery, owing to the steady rate of vaccinations, ease of restrictions across the country and general positive sentiment of consumers ahead of the festive season. “Moreover, legalisation of online sales is expected to lead to a paradigm shift in the way consumers discover and shop for beer, leading to rise in at-home consumption,” he adds.

Bira 91 has grown more than two and a half times compared to pre-Covid levels. “Our national market share saw an increase of 3x in comparison to pre-Covid levels. With over seven pints of Bira 19 enjoyed every second, we are now among the largest consumer brands to emerge from India in the last decade,” Jain adds.

Business as usual
According to the National Family Health Survey of 2019-21, the consumption of alcohol in India went down by 10% in comparison to the 2015-16 survey. From the 327 pubs, bars and restaurants in Gurugram in 2020, currently, there remain 276 of them as many closed due to losses during the pandemic. The two years of the pandemic greatly impacted the way we drink. Microbreweries, bars and pubs remained closed. Some permanently shut down due to losses owing to extended lockdowns. Craft Brewers Association’s survey revealed that the breweries had nearly two lakh litres of unsold beer in Bengaluru in 2020.

According to Singh of The Beer Cafe, microbreweries, which are driven by huge investments and favourable state policies, have had a strong presence in cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune, Chandigarh, and Kolkata. He adds that 90% of India’s microbreweries are situated here. While he says that in the last two years nobody invested in the microbrewery business and a number of them closed, but the ones that survived are continuing to do well.

According to a study on the beer market by Expert Market Research (EMR) titled ‘Indian Beer Market’, the India beer market stood at a value of nearly Rs371 billion in 2020. It further predicts that the industry is expected to reach approximatelyRs 662 billion by 2026, exhibiting an estimated CAGR of about 9.2% during 2022-2027.

The microbreweries are, in fact, no longer concentrated in only metro cities but are also sporadically opening in newer cities like Noida, Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow and Rajasthan. “We are witnessing a surge in the number of microbreweries in India, especially after the new state policies,” says Singh. From their 39 stores across India, The Beer Café stores shrunk to 32 during Covid-19. But the comeback has been better. They are soon planning to open a couple of more stores and on the way to becoming a total of 44 stores soon.

For The Beer Café, in the financial year (FY) 2020, the business was high. In FY 2021, the cafés remained closed but FY 2022 has so far been successful. Singh is hopeful that FY 2023 would be much better. “The entire March 2022, all our outlets were full and in fact there were long queues and waiting outside the restaurants. What has also contributed is the fact that this March has been exceptionally hotter than previous years. So, people are going out to bars and cafes. Secondly, beer is a social lubricant. Exams are over, offices have reopened, restrictions are gone and the drinking age limit has been reduced in certain cities like Haryana, from 25 to 21 years. The IPL season too is a huge booster for us as people gather to watch live matches with friends,” adds Singh.

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First published on: 17-04-2022 at 01:30 IST