Can India get a taste for craft beer?

Simon Atkinson visits some on Bangalore's booming brewpubs

Related Stories

If you have ever had a bottle of beer in India - or even in an Indian restaurant somewhere else in the world - the chances are it was one particular brand.

Kingfisher is synonymous with the drink in India, where it has more than 50% of the beer market.

But just a few kilometres from the company's headquarters in Bangalore, in the bustling Biere Club bar, dozens of customers sip beer without a drop of Kingfisher in sight.

Instead the crowd are drinking glasses of American rice lager, malt stout or a Belgian-style wheat beer. And it is all brewed just a few metres from where they are sitting.

Opened three years ago, this was Bangalore's first so-called brewpub - a bar with a small brewery on the premises - but now there are about 15 similar businesses in this one city alone. Best-known as India's IT hub, it has also become the capital of the country's craft brewing culture.

"It's become very competitive - but we have some loyal customers," says Biere Club founder Arvind Raju. "And we have to make sure we have a variety of beers and keep the quality high so that they come back."

Arbor Brewing Company pub Craft brewing has been gaining popularity in major Indian cities such as Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi
Artisanal products

Start Quote

They've been introduced to fine lifestyle products and craft beer is one of them”

End Quote Gaurav Sikka Arbor Brewing Company

Craft brewing has been booming in the US over the past 10 years - grabbing a market share of about 8%, and causing a doubling in the price of hops to boot.

And its success there - as well as in Europe - lies behind the emerging scene in cities like Bangalore, says Gaurav Sikka, managing director of the Arbor Brewing Company.

His Bangalore pub was set up in partnership with a brewery of the same name in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Mr Sikka studied and got the inspiration for his business. It sells mainly US-style drinks but with a nod to local tastes - including its Mango Maibock brew, an Indian take on a German lager, using the in-season fruit.

"There's a large population of young people in India, and many have travelled extensively," Mr Sikka says.

"They've been introduced to fine lifestyle products and craft beer is one of them. We're making beer with the best ingredients sourced from around the world so these are essentially artisanal products and people in India are yearning for that. They have a taste for them."

Arbor Brewing Company board Many Indian craft beers cater to local tastes

And his customers seem to agree.

"We've had the domination by Kingfisher for decades," says Madan Kumar, a regular in the Arbor pub. "But the liberalisation brought in more foreign beers, and now the craft beers, so there are always new things to try."

And for Amin Kassam - who is part-Indian, part-Scottish and works in Bangalore while his family is in the UK - venues like this make being away from home a little less arduous.

"The ale tastes really good," he says, holding up his dimpled beer glass. "And having a proper pint is great."

'Discerning tastes'

Sourcing brewing equipment and hiring brewers remains difficult and expensive but opening brewpubs has become easier in Bangalore since the state government developed policies on licensing and environmental issues.

Other states have followed suit - and several microbreweries have opened in the past year in cities like Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai.

Customers in Biere Club A relatively young population has also contributed to the growth of the craft beer market

Start Quote

Competition will only get better and we welcome that because craft beer is more of a brotherhood, collectively fighting against bad beer, getting people to drink better beer”

End Quote Rahul Mehra Gateway Brewing Company

But for all the hype about craft brewing, when it comes to sales the numbers remain tiny.

Instead it is the strong beer category - where alcohol by volume is typically about 8% - that is growing most rapidly in India.

Kingfisher Strong leads the way, but foreign brands have moved in with the likes of Budweiser Magnum, Carlsberg Elephant and for the less subtly minded, an SAB Miller beer called Knock Out.

"While in Europe people tend to drink beer for refreshment, here it's to get a high and that's why you see stronger beers always performing well in Indian markets," says Ankur Bisen, senior vice-president of the retail and consumer products division at consultants, Technopak.

"The target area is in cities and semi-urban areas and that gives you volumes of sales. But the tastes of the microbrewing segment is more discerning, more evolved, so you're essentially talking about two different markets.

"That's why I don't see the microbreweries at loggerheads with the mass-market beer industry in India."

A board showing various craft beers in a pub Despite the growing popularity craft beers have a small share of the market
'Gimmick'

That is the hope at the Gateway Brewing Company - India's first small-scale brewer that produces beer to sell on to pubs and restaurants, rather than to serve on its own premises.

Run on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Mumbai, it took about two years to get government permission to operate, and even with that hurdle cleared there are plenty of other difficulties.

Brewing only happens about three days a week because of regular power cuts, the company roasts its own malt because of a lack of reliable supply, and excise duties are higher than for mass-market brewers.

But as word gets around, it is seeing more businesses buying its 20-litre and 50-litre kegs, boosting its presence in Mumbai and nearby Pune.

"We're hoping more people will come into this trade," says Rahul Mehra - one of Gateway's three co-founders and an avid home brewer.

"Competition will only get better and we welcome that because craft beer is more of a brotherhood, collectively fighting against bad beer, getting people to drink better beer."

For Mr Mehra and his colleagues, anything is a preferable alternative to the mass-market drinks that have dominated his country for so long. But he still thinks that anyone trying to ride the new craft beer wave, especially by opening a brewpub, needs to be cautious.

"Many brewpub owners work on the gimmick of it - they think that if they have a brewery more people will come to their bar.

"What they don't get is the differentiator is not the big shiny brewing tank. The differentiator is the beer."

More on This Story

Related Stories

More Business stories

RSS

Business Live

  1.  
    07:10: ECB bond buying BBC Radio 4
    The EURO logo

    The European Central Bank reveals more details of its bond-buying programme later today - but don't expect any surprises, Andrew Wilson, chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, tells Today. He says we've already seen "marked weakening" of the euro, so it will be interesting to see what impact ECB action will have.

     
  2.  
    06:55: Drones
    drone

    The House of Lords has called for a tracking system for all drones and their users. A report by the EU Committee of the House of Lords described drones - or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, to give them their official title - as an "exciting new technology", but warned that their use poses risks to the general public and other airspace users.

     
  3.  
    06:44: China growth BBC Radio 4

    China's 7% economic growth target for 2015 is about "sending a message" particularly to local governments, which look to Beijing for guidance in setting their own targets. But at the the same time the government is very concerned about the level of debt in the banking sector - something it is trying to address, Duncan Innes-Ker, China analyst with the Economist intelligence Unit, tells Today.

     
  4.  
    06:30: AbbVie

    Big news from the pharma world overnight as US company AbbVie announced a deal to buy leukemia drugmaker Pharmacyclics for $21bn (£13.8bn). It appears to have won the prize from under the nose of Johnson & Johnson, which some reports say was close to a deal.

     
  5.  
    06:20: Brazil economy Radio 5 live
    Copacabana beach

    The Brazilian currency - the real - has hit a 10-year low after the central bank raised interest rates by half a point to a stonking 12.75% overnight. The BBC's Daniel Gallas in Sao Paulo tells Wake Up to Money that the country could tip into recession this year as the government embarks on an austerity drive, raising taxes and cutting spending.

     
  6.  
    06:11: Interest rates Radio 5 live

    It's been six whole years since the Bank of England cut the base rate to 0.5%. That's been good for borrowers, but not so great for savers - of which there are many more after all. Vivan Slattery, an independent financial adviser, tells Wake Up To Money many of her clients have stayed in cash but are now looking at alternatives given that rates do not seem set to increase sharply anytime soon - particularly as many mortgage holders are now on the standard variable rate.

     
  7.  
    06:05: China growth Radio 5 live

    China has announced that its target growth rate for 2015 is 7% - down from 7.5% for last year. The BBC's Ali Moore in Singapore says the new target is not a reflection of panic in Beijing but part of its drive to lower expectations and rebase the economy to focus more on domestic demand. "It's more about quality than quantity," she adds.

     
  8.  
    Welcome to Thursday Chris Johnston Business reporter

    Good morning from me and Matthew West. Another busy day of business news coming up - we'll be here to guide you through it all. Get in touch with your comments at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or on Twitter at @bbcbusiness.

     

Features

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.