The microbrew march

The microbrew march
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First Published: Sat, Oct 11 2008. 01 19 AM IST

Updated: Sat, Oct 11 2008. 01 19 AM IST
Nestled in the glass and grime of India’s controversial millennium city is Galaxy, where a dry ice asteroid sculpture lit by twinkling stars stands three floors tall in the lobby. The year-old lifestyle hotel is located near 32nd Milestone, that original Gurgaon after hours destination which hosted the “world’s longest dance party” in 1999.
Now, Galaxy’s going for its own record.
Howzzat, a 2,500 sq. ft cricket-themed bar, will brew its own beer a few feet away from the glove-shaped seats, and 76-inch plasmas. So, as you chug your handcrafted pint, you can see the shiny made-in-China Brite Beer Tanks in which it was created.
Also See A graphic representation of Howzzat, India’s first brewpub, in Gurgaon.
India’s first brewpub—a pub that brews beer on its premises— opens in November.
IIM Bangalore graduate Suketu Talekar, 30, could have been the first. He got his LoI (letter of intent; a precursor to a licence) to start a brewpub way back in 2006.
Talekar and his partner, Prateek Chaturvedi, an IIM Calcutta graduate, joined the Singapore office of Procter and Gamble on the same day. After many discussions over top quality India Pale Ale, they quit their jobs and came back to Pune to start BrewCrafts Microbrewing Pvt. Ltd in 2006. Third partner and brewmaster Oliver Schauf relocated to India six months ago.
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“We started with the classical MBA approach of presentation. We had a slick business plan, Excel sheets that showed the entire structure of our company. We were convinced investors would be tripping over each other to invest in our company. Nobody gave us money,” says Talekar.
So crafty: (from left to right) Partners Oliver Schauf, Suketu Talekar and Prateek Chaturvedi will launch their microbrewery venture this year. Sandesh Bhandare / Mint
Back then, he says, the only experience they had with beer was drinking it. “Our hypothesis was that this country will accept a better beer. The only way it could be tested was if we made that beer.”
But venture capitalists, always in search of the next big technology start-up, were unwilling to help the beerheads test their frothy premise.
Finally, the partners took an SBI term loan, found a couple of angel investors and borrowed money from Talekar’s businessman father. The march of the microbreweries had begun.
But if we’re really going by firsts, 40-year-old Pune resident Balasaheb Jadhav is your man. By 2003, the employee of Coca-Cola India, a mechanical engineer with 14 years of manufacturing experience, was ready to be an entrepreneur. “I wanted to make a product that was difficult to manufacture and easy to sell.”
Beer seemed just the thing.
It had to be a small-scale project because Jadhav had limited funds. He scoured the Internet for viable business options and got his answer: a microbrewery. “My project was submitted to the bank before I finally visited my first microbrewery in Harbin, China,” says the director of Martin Judds Microbreweries (plural, because “some day there will be many”) Pvt Ltd, who began to make his Knights beer with an initial investment of Rs1 crore. The name of Jadhav’s firm came not from a global tie-up but from a Coke tradition of nicknaming colleagues by their last names. “My friend Maruti was called Martin and Jadhav became Judd,” he says.
The new beer entrepreneurs, of course, have enough exposure to microbreweries. Sandeep Bhatnagar, managing director, Ambicon Consultants Pvt. Ltd, has been marketing microbrewery equipment and cajoling state governments to update their excise policies since 2003, when he came back from Finchley in the UK. There he lived next door to a microbrewery. Talekar and Agarwal got the idea from their favourite watering hole, Brewerkz, Singapore’s award-winning microbrewery restaurant. Narayan Manepally, co-founder of Geist (Guy-st), a craft beer that will be launched in Bangalore next month, brewed beer in his home garage in Portland, Oregon for many years.
Manepally and his partner Paul Chowdhury, who have known each other since Class IV, fell out of touch, then met at an old boys’ reunion in Bangalore after they both returned from long stints abroad. They went ahead and bought land in Goa to set up a microbrewery.
Also See How they stack up (Graphic)
But after delays, a keg full of rules and a government change in Goa, entrepreneur friends advised they find a contract manufacturer to make their beer. That’s why Geist is conceived in India but made in Belgium.
The beer, which is priced at Rs125-130 for 330ml, will be available in four variants—Blonde, Strong Blonde, Whistling Wheat and Dark. Chowdhury says they received lots of encouragement from fellow Bangaloreans such as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Nandan Nilekani (they took their beer to Nilekani’s 50th birthday party).
Manepally and Chowdhury—both engineers—will also launch two fruit beers Agrumbocq (with mandarin juice and the aromas of grapefruit and lime; we’re talking pinkish head) and Applebocq (apple, cinnamon, bitter coriander-orange and a touch of wheat.)
Jadhav’s brewmaster quit just after his plant was commissioned in October 2007, so the entrepreneur learnt to brew himself. Sandesh Bhandare / Mint
A handful of state governments have revised their excise policies to include microbreweries and brewpubs (these can only sell their beer on the premises). Haryana was the last to revise its policy in March; Assam and Chattisgarh are expected to follow soon.
It’s not unusual to tweak craft beers until you get them just right. “They have the personal touch of the brewer—haath ki kamal—that sort of thing,” says Manepally.
“You can go wild in terms of creativity,” says Galaxy’s general manager Vivek Sharma whose liquid learning has leapfrogged recently (“there’s no glycerine in beer”; “beer doesn’t give you a beer belly”; “freshly-brewed beer is healthier”).
Jadhav is already revising his formula based on market feedback. “Because it’s a 100% malt beer, the head is a little less so we’re working on improving that,” says the entrepreneur who recently tied up with a marketing firm. He’s stopped selling his strong and light Knights beers in Pune and now retails in the bigger Mumbai market where he hopes to sell an average 2,000 cases every month until February.
All the new microbrewery beers have variants—and tasting notes. So, Applebocq is “characteristic of tart apples (old variety). A sweet product with a touch of wheat”. This is the precise moment I start wondering if we should all just stick to Tiger.
At a beer-tasting organized for Lounge at Galaxy’s brewpub (this is such a hard job, dear reader), I scribble tasting notes. There’s water to cleanse the palate as I guzzle my way through a light lager (sorry, but it’s too light); a premium lager (smooth, nice); a dark beer (highest alcohol content but too sweet for me); and an unfiltered wheat beer (my favourite; 80% barley, 20% wheat). Galaxy sources its barley from arid regions in Rajasthan; the hops come from the high altitudes of Lahaul-Spiti.
What type of beer do most Indians like anyway? Everyone has a different answer. “Indians don’t like bitter beers with a lot of hops,” says beer consultant and former microbrewery manager Karen Larrabee, who has worked in India for a year now. “My gut feel is that our Blonde will do the best since it’s closest to what’s available in the market,” says Geist’s Chowdhury. Adds Talekar: “The Indian palate likes pretty much anything wheat.” Most experts say the Indian beer palate can currently distinguish only between mild/strong beer.
Whether microbrewery beer will taste better than industrially-produced beer and whether consumers will be willing to pay a premium for this presumably better brew are two key factors that will determine which way this new business swings, says Talekar. “Right now, there are no benchmarks to predict if this business will be successful,” he adds.
Perhaps that’s why restaurateur A.D. Singh says that though he’s snagged a space in Pune where he wants to open a microbrewery garden by next September, he believes that “at this point, making beer for this capacity and selling it only on your premises is not feasible”.
“Technically, we don’t have the knowledge base to do it. I don’t think anybody does in India,” he adds. Industry sources say the Rockman Group’s brewpub, Beer Garden in Gurgaon, has also been delayed due to technical reasons. “The microbrewery business is not feasible,” agrees Nikhil Kumar, a Belgian beer importer.
One man who has all the expertise you can hope to encounter is 59-year-old Subroto Cariapa, Galaxy’s brewmaster. His resume reads like a who’s who of the beer industry. After completing his PhD in permutation technology from Prague, Cariapa worked at Heineken, Pilsner Urval (Czech; “the world’s best beer”) and Frydenlunds Brewery in Norway. In 1976, he came back to India.
Over the next two decades, he says, he developed the London Pilsner brand; followed that up with Cobra, Knockout, MBL and that army favourite Pals lager; helped Anheuser-Busch build a state-of-the-art brewery in Hyderabad and introduced us to Budweiser.
Now he’s leading the microbrewery march.
Cariapa believes that if a brewpub can sell 150 litres a day, it becomes a viable business. “People are willing to pay a higher price for this beer and you save traditional expenses on the bottle, cap, carton, which work out to about 50% of the cost of bottled beer,” he says. “Once the first brewpub is launched, you’ll see a number of units coming up. I’m sure it’s going to be a big success,” he says.
Cariapa should know. He’s been creating beers since 1974 when fellow students worked long weekends to “prove their research, experimenting with different raw materials”. Now he’s got a dozen or so recipes he can’t wait to try out on the customers of the country’s first brewpub. I tell him I found his light beer too light and his dark beer too sweet. “It’s meant to be for light easy drinking,” he chides. “And the dark is meant to be sweet, it’s caramel, not burnt malt. If I make it like a stout, it will be too bitter and that’s not acceptable.” One thing is clear: Beer will soon be a favourite conversation starter.
(Shoba Narayan contributed to this story.)
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Beer makes the world go round
“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”
-- Abraham Lincoln
“24 hours in a day, 24 beers in a case. Coincidence?”
-- Stephen Wright
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”
-- Benjamin Franklin
“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”
-- Dave Barry
“I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.”
-- Shakespeare, Henry V
“Make sure that the beer—four pints a week—goes to the troops under fire before any of the parties in the rear get a drop.”
-- Winston Churchill to his secretary of war, 1944
“We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old.”
-- Martin Luther King
“I work until beer o’clock.”
-- Stephen King
“He was a wise man who invented beer.”
-- Plato
“Fermentation may have been a greater discovery than fire.”
-- David Rains Wallace
“Fill with mingled cream and amber, I will drain that glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber through the chambers of my brain. Quaintest thoughts—queerest fancies, Come to life and fade away: What care I how time advances? I am drinking ale today.”
-- Edgar Allan Poe
“Give me a woman who truly loves her beer and I will conquer the world.”
-- Kaiser Wilhelm II
“How much beer is in German Intelligence?”
-- Friedrich Nietzsche
(Quotes compiled by the folks at Geist beer)
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First Published: Sat, Oct 11 2008. 01 19 AM IST
More Topics: Beer | Brew | Microbrewery | Howzzat | Pub |