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    Brewing for a better earth: India’s craft beer boom is looking bubbly

    Brewing for a better earth: India’s craft beer boom is looking bubbly

    Brewing for a better earth: India’s craft beer boom is looking bubbly
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    By Sayantani Chakrabarty   IST (Updated)

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    Drinking craft beer, which tastes quite different from mass-produced ones, is a different experience altogether.

    A decade back, people after work would meet at a bar near their office and gulp mugs after mugs of Kingfisher or Carlsberg. But the millennial crowd evolved and started valuing boutique things happening to them. They started taking experiences seriously. And that’s when craft brew boom set in. Now for a glass of a drink not produced in a mass-production unit of Himachal Pradesh, people would prefer driving for more than an hour – such is the brand loyalty. It’s all because the craft brewers took the taste buds of their customers too seriously and handcrafted drinks that almost feel ‘especially’ made.
    Market watch
    The Indian alcohol market is the third largest and one of the fastest growing in the world. It is expected to grow by 25 percent to $41 billion by 2022, according to a recent report by Euromonitor. The alcoholic beverage market can be classified into three classes: Beer, wine and spirit. Beer is the second most popular alcoholic beverage after whiskey, in India. Decade-old Indian craft beer industry is at a nascent stage with a market share of 2-3 percent of India’s beer market ($7 billion) against 12 percent in the US.
    The All India Brewers Association estimates sales of craft beers to grow at 20 percent y-o-y, which is higher than 5-7 percent y-o-y growth in the beer market. Over 30 percent of India’s population lives in the urban regions that have witnessed steady growth in restaurants, pubs and a more recent phenomenon, the brewpubs. Growth is driven by millennials who find craft beer more authentic and premium, compared to regular lagers.
    Backed by capitals
    With the recent surge in the beer business across India, it is stunningly noticeable that the home-brewing community is taking the lead and how! Most of these breweries are backed by venture capitalists and driven by passion. Bira91 that has around 6 percent of market share had raised around $50 million from Sofina and $4.3 million from Sixth Sense Ventures in 2018. Witlinger that began its bottling unit in Chhattisgarh had raised an undisclosed amount from two HNIs and was planning to sell a minority stake in 2018 to raise $7 million.
    What makes craft brew so unique?
    Unlike beers produced at large scale, these craft brews are created in small batches using specially curated recipes, not formulas. Hence the term ‘craft’.
    Besides making big moolahs, some of them are aiming for a much higher purpose -- empowering local communities and conserving natural resources.
    The principle of sustainability
    Abhinav Jindal is one personality in the craft brew community who is bringing the Indian provenance to the forefront. Deciding to move against the grains with his passionate endeavour by launching his own beer brands, Yavira and BeeYoung, the parent company Kimaya Himalayan has multiple breweries set up in Uttarakhand. Kimaya Himalayan Beverages uses locally grown and directly sourced basmati rice in their premium brew Yavirā.
    “We are working diligently to create two new premium brews in which we are experimenting with various coarse grains like Jhangora and Mandwa (both types of millets) grown in the remote hilly regions of Uttarakhand. Once we are successful, we are in talks with these marginalized farmers for a direct procurement contract,” Jindal said.
    Kati Patang, another brew from the Himalayas, is bottling Indian sentiments with some zesty amber ale. Founded by Shantanu and his wife Lata, the beer is brewed in Bhutan and sold exclusively in Delhi. Kati Patang, like several other craft breweries in the country, stresses the importance of water. Being close to the Himalayan terrain in Serbhum, Bhutan, the Kati Patang guarantees the availability of the purest Himalayan spring water that they use in their brewing process.
    Much like Abhinav Jindal’s passion to give back to the local community, Shantanu and Lata’s passion resides in water conversation and Kati Patang pledges 2 percent of its annual net profit towards water conservation initiatives. Simba Beers, crafted in Chattisgarh, uses local rice and treated water from a river nearby. Similarly, White Rhino, the craft beer that set up its brewery in 2016 at Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal, relies on a local tributary to feed the beer its soft water low in dissolved solids.
    The experience that counts
    Drinking craft beer, which tastes quite different from mass-produced ones, is a different experience altogether. Each beer is unique in taste, with their distinct flavours hitting just the right notes. “The taste palate of consumers has evolved over time”, said Simba Beer’s founder Prabhtej Singh Bhatia. “Every Time you try a new style of beer, it will feel like you are trying a new cuisine to experience something better and tasty.” Whereas Simba’s Stout mixes a fragrant dark chocolate, coffee and caramel whiff with the taste of lemongrass and wheat malt citrus, White Rhino combines the fruity, tropical aromas of mango, pineapple, lychee, and citrus.
    Fine-tuning tribal favourites
    Not just beer, even liquors hand-produced by tribal communities in various parts of the country, have started entering the mainstream market. There are craft distillers who produce spirits out of flowers, which grow in the wild. One such brand is Agave India, whose founder Desmond Nazareth chanced upon a flower-based distilled spirit at Daman. “I searched the ramshackle side streets and finally sourced some cloudy liquid in a filthy plastic bottle. Gingerly sipping it, I immediately suspected that this floral bouquet spirit could likely be made much better. I bookmarked that encounter and continued my research on agave,” said Desmond. Agave is a plant, native to the arid and semiarid regions of the Americas, particularly Mexico, and is used in the making of tequila.
    “Twelve years later, in 2013, with our artisanal DesmondJi/DJ alcohols making waves in the national and international media, I initiated the daunting task of getting the many permissions to make and sell an official Mahua spirit,” added Nazareth. Since Mahua liquor is made by the tribal communities, it is currently treated and regulated by state excise authorities as a country liquor.
    According to Desmond, “Tribal peoples can get much higher prices for an increasing food-grade component of this bonanza NTFP crop (conservatively estimated at around 500,000 tonnes per annum over the 13 Central Indian forest belt states). If my vision of turning Mahua spirit into the ‘National Heritage spirit of India with a GI’ comes true, and with say 100,000 liters of international quality spirit being sold around the world, the empowerment is a no-brainer.”
    Will the bubble burst?
    The potential for craft breweries in India largely depends on a healthy growth rate of the beer industry. The establishment of a cold chain supply is essential for bottling craft beer, which is also proportional to increasing volumes and scale of production, with a working capital for building the brand.
    Some of the major concerns that plague the craft brewing industry are the restrictive and excessive state government regulations and the licensing dilemmas, the growing cost of raw materials, and limited infrastructure.
    However, what still keeps us happy is the wide smile the craft brew entrepreneurs wear and hustle with a passion to create a new recipe every day.
    Sayantani Chakrabarty explores cuisine, culture, and geography with an honest fervour.
    Read her columns here.
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