"We Make Beer For A Living!"

Wish you could say that, don’t you? Well these gutsy dudes actually do.

By Meher Bajwa

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Maxim made friends with a group of talented gents who just happen to own and run four of India’s most popular craft breweries. These guys are proof that start-ups aren’t just an IT sector thing—they can be fun, profitable and delightfully boozy.

HOW IT ALL STARTED

These guys travelled the world, drank hundreds of litres of fantastic beer and then put in years of hard work to learn the trade.
“My wife introduced me to my first craft beer brewery while we were studying at Purdue. I was amazed that beer was so much more than just yellow fizzy stuff we used to get in India back then,” says Shailendra “Shailly” Bist, co-founder and head brewer at Independence Brewing Company, one of Pune’s leading breweries. “After moving to L.A. in 2004, I joined a homebrew club and that’s where the real appreciation and love for craft beers started. Being a mechanical engineer, the DIY component of home brewing really appealed to me. The home brewing culture propelled me to learn more, brew more and from a hobby it became a passion. While working a full-time job, I interned part time in two local breweries and also completed my BJCP certification. By 2008, microbrewery licensing was opening up in India so I started planning for setting up one myself. Luckily, I was introduced to my partner and co-founder, Avanish Vellanki, around that time and here we are today. In a nut shell, I just love the history, art, science and the overall culture around craft beers.”

Ketan SS Gohel, Anand Morwani and Ansh Seth of the Brewbot Eatery & Pub Brewery in Mumbai started off with a dream “to save the city from mediocre beer.” And it’s safe to say, they pulled it off. Brewbot is one of Mumbai’s most popular craft breweries right now. “Having lived and studied in Europe, we had the opportunity to explore some of the world’s best beer destinations and, furthermore, through travel, we were exposed to various styles and brewing philosophies around Europe and America. To put it simply, it is our commitment to, and everlasting love for, craft beers that have brought us as far as we are today. We wanted to provide an affordable, delicious and uncompromised product.”

Arvind Raju of The Biere Club, Bengaluru’s first craft brewery, calls Bengaluru the “pub capital” of the country and also one of the toughest markets in terms of competition. “For us, the dream started when my sister and I travelled and familiarised ourselves with the concept of brewing your own beer. We opened The Biere Club with a purpose to serve patrons of any age (with the exception of alcohol) and to let Bengaluru know what it is to drink freshly brewed beers. As a local myself, I love my mug of chilled beer.”

Gregory Kroitzsh started The Barking Deer in Mumbai for selfish reasons, he says. “Since I was a craft beer enthusiast and a home brewer in the States, I thought I could brew some good homebrew here in India. If the business didn’t work at least I’d be drinking great beer! But beyond that, I did believe it was a great business idea. When I decided to turn my back on a banking career, starting a microbrewery was the only thing that I could imagine myself doing. Back in the late ’80s, when the craft beer movement was just starting in the U.S., my father toyed with the idea of starting a microbrewery in my home state of Vermont. He decided against it because there was already another brewery in our small state of five lakh people. Fast forward 30 years later and there are now 30 thriving microbreweries in the state producing some of the finest beers in the world. How was he to know that craft beer would boom to be a $20 billion industry with nearly 4,500 breweries across the country? When I saw this opportunity in Mumbai, I swore that I would not make the same mistake.”

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What: THE BARKING DEER
Where: MUMBAI
Who: Gregory Kroitzsh
Try: The Flying Pig Belgian Wit, the Bark IPA and the Bombay Blonde.

A RISING TREND

Why have craft breweries become such a profitable and popular brand of business in India in the last five years?
“It’s a matter of great taste, quality and value. Indian beer drinkers are getting more sophisticated and they’d grown tired of the same old industrial beer. When you taste something that is simply better, better for you and at a reasonable price, there is  no going back,” says Gregory. According to Shailly, “Craft breweries offer patrons, quality, variety and a ‘drink from the source’ experience. A few breweries like ours also invest time and eff ort into educating the patrons and, hence, they feel more connected to the product. Beer drinkers are just excited to have better options than the standard yellow fizzy lagers you get in bottles.”

The guys at Brewbot say, “A majority of the people in India have only had lagers and part of the majority (a good part) are now bored of the single style of beer available! People are more informed about the ingredients and chemicals (yes, chemicals!) used by commercial/industrial breweries. But most of all, people just want a better product.”

Arvind says it has to do with the legal hassles being cut down as well. “To define the success of breweries, there are two angles of tallying its success. One would be the success it has had with customers. And the other being the procurement of licenses and the excise regulations that seem to be relaxed at the moment.”

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What: THE BIERE CLUB
Where: BENGALURU
Who: Arvind Raju
Try: The Belgian Strong Ale, the signature Mango Ale and the Cucumber Coriander Lager.

YOU’VE GOT TO GET YOURSELF A USP

Why should beer drinkers return to your joint?
Be consistent like the team at Brewbot Eatery & Pub Brewery: “Our beers comprise of three pillars—care, patience and consistency. We source and use the highest quality of ingredients, allow our beer to mature to its best potential, which in turn gives our beer consistency…basically we don’t fu*k around.”

Get funky with branding like The Barking Deer: “The Barking Deer is an animal living in the mountain forests of India and, when I learned about it, I thought it was the perfect mascot for our fun-loving and wacky approach to brewing beer. A deer that barks like a dog.”

Give ‘em something new every time like the menu at The Biere Club: “We are always looking for exciting flavours and out-of-the-box combinations to offer to our customers. We constantly rotate our beers; that is to say, we’ll never brew consecutive batches of the same beer; there will always be a change on the menu when you visit us.”

KNOW YOUR PRODUCT

You should be able to identify and critique your own beer with or without a blindfold on. “I religiously drink my own beer and I am ruthless about critiquing it. If I find any defect, I force my brewers to dump the whole batch. Each one of our beers must not only be brewed to style but also be clean tasting and delicious,” explains Gregory of The Barking Deer.

“Part of owning a brewery is to see that the brews being produced are to the customers’ liking and this allows us as a team to brainstorm and come up with more ideas on how to make our brews better every time,” shares Arvind.

“We have at least 7-8 styles of beer on taps at all times. We try our best to launch at least one new beer every month—of course, I have tried all, multiple times actually. Consider that a part of quality control,” jokes Shailly.

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What: THE INDEPENDENCE BREW COMPANY
Where: PUNE
Who: Shailendra Bist
Try: The Bitter Truth, Four Grain Saison and a stout named Ixcacao.

THE BREWING PROCESS

Is it a series of calculated steps or a mad experiment every time?
Arvind says it’s an intuitive process. “You can do all the small scale trials you want but you never know how the beer will change as you scale up. You can do some basic calculations but it is imperative that you trust your gut.”

Gregory describes brewers as “25% engineer, 25% poet and 50% sanitation worker. Brewers are rare breeds. They need to be creative to experiment and blend flavours, but also need to be meticulous and precise to perfectly follow recipes, ingredients and temperatures. What most people don’t know is how much cleaning is involved in brewing. More than half the time, brewers are scrubbing, cleaning and sanitising. If there is a defect in the beer, it probably came from poor sanitation practices.

The folks at Independence Brewing Company believe beer brewing is more precise than some might think. “I’d say it’s 20% art and 80% science. We first start with the intent of what we want to brew—flavour, aroma, body and mouth feel, etc,” explains Shailly. “Then we plan the recipe—which malts, hops and spices to use and how much? Then comes the process: Water chemistry, mash schedule, hop additions, spice additions, boil time, fermentation time and temperature.”

Team Brewbot thinks a bit of both. “Brewing, as an experience, can be different with each style or product you make. It’s not a mad experiment but we do, at times, get crazy with the things we use, but ultimately the goal is always the same, to produce beer of the highest quality and consistency.”

MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC?

There’s a debate about the pros and cons of using an automated machine process to brew batches versus following a more traditional manual “hand made” system.

According to Shailly, “Automation in the brewing process should be just enough to make the brewer’s life manageable. There is a lot of elbow grease that goes into brewing. Also, in many ways, it keeps the brewer connected to the beer being brewed. We have an in-house software, which we use to manage recipes and calculate critical parameters like bitterness, ABV, colour, etc. This way we can be consistent from batch to batch.”

Gregory reveals that the beer brewing process at The Barking Deer is highly manual and they like it that way. “We feel that we are in greater control of our small batches that we do. It allows us to experiment with styles and flavours and not get too worried about making mistakes.”

“Unlike a home-brew set-up, the brewing at Brewbot is slightly complex. We have installed a semi-automated system to maintain perfect temperatures, pressures and quality of our beers. Even then, without our personal involvement (heart, soul and everything else) the beers would not be the same,” says Ketan.

Arvind explains that the process at The Biere Club is semiautomatic. “We get enough exercise, but not like how it used to be in the old times.”

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What: BREWBOT EATERY & PUB BREWERY
Where: MUMBAI
Who: Ketan SS Gohel, Ansh Seth and Anand Morwani
Try: The Skywalker, the Floating Head and the Botwork Orange.

IF IT WERE LEGAL TO BREW BEER AT HOME...

Here’s what you should do first.

“Learn the basics, brew at least 10 good classic styles first and then go crazy and experiment all you want. Also, support local craft beer,” advises Shailly.

Ketan says you need to be radical and not hold back. “Brewing should be about the fun and love that you put into the process that finally reflects in the glass of beer. Experiment with different ingredients and styles, you might just stumble upon a great product, and, as many of us know, some of the greatest things in the world are discovered by accident!”

Photographs by Kurush Umrigar and Dipti Desai