Bengaluru: Microbreweries in India are searching new flavours and niche beers to survive in a market that has become crowded a decade into their launch.

With 40-50 breweries each in just Bengaluru and Gurugram, the key to ensuring survival will be carving out niches, microbrewery owners said. Hiring the right brewmasters, extensive training and finding a combination of local and international sourcing are some of the steps that established names believe will be necessary.

It has also never been more crucial to hire and invest in top brewing talent, of whom there is a dearth in India, owners of established microbreweries and brewpubs said at the first edition of the Craft Drinks conference held in Bengaluru.

“The food and beverage industry is heading towards what is called the experience economy. By that I mean people are looking for better experiences, covering all five senses, and the product is a part of it. But in a microbrewery, the brewery has to be the champion," said Prateek Chaturvedi, who runs Ministry of Beer in Gurugram.

The brewery should be the champion across all five senses—from being the most visible part of the establishment to ensuring regular or signature brews as well as seasonal brews go down well with local tastes; designing the food menu around the beers to ensuring the staff is well trained and knowledgeable, he added. Chaturvedi was part of the team that founded Doolally Brewing Co, which opened in November 2008 in Pune and was the first in the country to be issued a microbrewery licence. Since then, consumers in Mumbai, Bengaluru and NCR have become familiar with microbreweries.

Earlier, consumers would walk in and ask for a beer, brewpub owners said at the conference.

“Earlier, you could get away with the standard four beers – lager, pilsner, dark lager and stout. But now, consumers want more and associate craft beer with something truly special. Their expectations are very high," said Ajay Nagarajan, chief executive of Windmills Craftworks.

While many of Bengaluru’s brewpubs have realized that consumers want more than the basic flavours, there are many microbreweries in Gurugram that are struggling because they continue to sell the same standard four beers, many at the conference said.

Introducing new brews is important, but so is staying true to your claims. 

At Windmills, 90% of the beers are American-style brews but the company experiments with locally-sourced ingredients when it comes to seasonal brews. The Ministry of Beer has, for example, experimented with a seasonal kesar mango brew. 

Since many of the ingredients required to brew beer in general—like barley, hops and yeast—have to be imported, it is crucial to keep local tastes in mind and experiment with Indian-inspired infusions, according to many.

“Promoters should have a passion for craft beer and build a personal story around their beers with the community. They should ensure this culture flows through the entire organization, especially service staff and design rigorous education and training programs," said Gaurav Sikka, managing director of Arbor Brewpub. To maintain their standards, microbreweries need to hire talented people, who are hard to find.

Most established names end up hiring overseas talent. Bengaluru-based Toit Brewpub’s master brewer Matthew Callahan is Irish. Windmills is hiring a champion brewer from Stone Brewing in San Diego. While the Indian consumer and the microbrewery industry have evolved to phase two, the talent pool is not ready yet—and this is something that could determine how many microbreweries survive the next decade in India.

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