Chug a mug of coffee-flavoured beer or a hearty stout at one of the many brewpubs that have come up.
The good folks at Brewerkz in Singapore might not know this but they've been the inspiration for at least two similar ventures in India. Brewerkz is one of the most popular microbrewery restaurants in the city state, serving beer freshly brewed on its own premises — a familiar concept abroad. Courtesy changes in the excise policy of some states and a few enterprising entrepreneurs, brewpubs are now coming up in India as well.
The Biere Club in Bangalore is the latest among these to open the taps for enthusiasts of freshly-brewed beer, and the first in the city. Arvind Raju, the 29-year-old proprietor, says the idea was "brewed" in Brewerkz when he was there with his sister and co-promoter, Meenakshi. “We even approached its management for a possible partnership but they weren't looking at entering India then. So we decided to go ahead on our own,” says the hotel management graduate. With the Karnataka government notifying the rules allowing microbreweries in January this year, The Biere Club was finally able to launch in May, two-and-a-half years after the duo thought of the concept. A month on, Raju says business is booming: “We brew four times a week, up to 500 litres per batch, and we’ve sold out whatever we’ve brewed till date.”
The 250-cover brewpub spread over three levels currently offers a golden ale, a lager, a wheat beer and a stout, which will be expanded to include a seasonal beer and club special. And that’s not the only expansion planned — given the response, Raju says they will definitely open in other cities, beginning with Hyderabad, once Andhra Pradesh (incidentally, the largest beer-consuming state) changes its liquor licence policy. Meanwhile, competition is waiting in the wings in the form of pub-cum-restaurant Toit which will start brewing its own beer in August. “We saw brewpubs over the world and wondered why Bangalore doesn’t have one,” says Arun George, one of the four founder directors, and a former Hewlett Packard executive. Toit plans to offer eight types of beer, once it starts brewing.
Brewerkz was also where IIM graduates Prateek Chaturvedi and Suketu Talekar used to go for a beer when they were with Procter & Gamble in Singapore. Chaturvedi even “interned” there, once they had decided to start something similar in India, so that he could learn the ropes. But when they finally put their plan into action in 2006, they adopted a slightly different model — they entered into a partnership with a boutique hotel in Pune. The latter was to take care of the pub part of it, while the two, along with partner and brew master Oliver Schauff, would run the microbrewery on the same premises and brew their Doolally beer which began to be served at the “First Brewhouse” towards the end of 2009.
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While brewpubs are coming up in different cities, the real hub is Gurgaon, which has at least five, with Haryana having been one of the first states to allow microbreweries in 2008-09. However, the “first brewpub” tag is claimed by both Howzatt and Rockman’s Beer Island, launched within less than a month of each other towards the end of 2008. Tag and fresh beer apart, the two have chalked out different paths. Howzatt has gone the sports bar way, with cricket as the theme, from the name of the bar itself and its beers (“doosra,” “googly” and “bouncer”) to the giant, slightly disconcerting glove-shaped seats while Rockman’s Beer Island (which Gurgaon refers to as “RBI”), with equipment and ingredients from Germany, is pushing its “German identity.” There seem to be takers for both— Rockman’s Beer Island and Howzatt are buzzing even early in the evening on a Friday. At Howzatt with three of his friends, Deepanshu Thukral, an executive in the healthcare sector, says though this is just his second visit, he is pretty sure he'll be making more trips from Delhi to the brewpub. Howzatt has also been the role model for Hops N Grains, a microbrewery restaurant in Panchkula (next to Chandigarh), run by a couple in their late 20s, Amritanshu Aggarwal and wife Priyanka.
“There is immense scope for microbreweries and brewpubs in India,” says Rohit Jafa, managing director of Hong Kong-based Sino Trade Corporation, which has provided microbrewery equipment to four brewpubs in India and is working on six more projects, including one in Amritsar and another in Jalandhar. Jafa, who has been in the microbrewery equipment business for five years, says he hadn’t really expected to open shop in India, given the licence policies but now that it has taken off, expects the boom to continue for the next four to five years. He charges Rs 75 lakh to Rs 1.10 crore to set up a microbrewery, the equipment for which is made in China, while machinery imported from European countries would cost Rs 3-4 crore. Brewpubs also import most of the raw material, mainly barley, hops and yeast.
Apart from the novelty of the concept, Jafa says fresh beer itself is a USP. “There is a vast difference between beer that’s freshly brewed and the bottled variety,” he says, a sentiment expressed by all the brewpub proprietors, too. “Once you've tasted fresh beer, you will not want to go back to bottled beer” says Toit’s George. There even seems to be a missionary zeal among some of the brewpubs. Doolally's site proclaims “It’s time to celebrate the end to the tyranny of bad beer! It ends here and it ends now!”, while The Biere Club on its site says it has been “Established with the purpose of giving beer its due in our country.”
The Biere Club keeps changing the flavours it offers (brews include orange-and-coriander- and coffee-flavoured beer) while Howzatt and Rockman’s stick to three to four types, with the occasional flavoured beer introduced on days like Valentine’s Day. And the premium customers have to pay (a 330 ml mug of wheat beer at The Biere Club is Rs 225, while a pint of Kingfisher, which commands roughly half the beer market sales, would be half that in a similar setting) does not appear to be a deterrent. With his pub being close to Kingfisher’s main office in Bangalore, Raju says many of the company executives troop in for a drink. “Even the Kingfisher people want some variety,” he adds, tongue in cheek.