Beering onto a New Path
When it comes to the world of spirits, there are a very few that leave an indelible mark on the Indian consumer. Beer is one of them. From the first original brews coming into India for the British soldiers (also the story of India Pale Ale), country’s first brewery in Himachal by Edward Dyer to world wide success of Kingfisher and the first microbrewery in Pune – there is much pride in the beer heritage.
Back to present day, influx of globalization, ability to spend more money, broadening of an individual’s horizons thanks to travel and mass media has opened new vistas for the popularity of beers. India has heartily welcomed beers – craft to commercial – from all over the world. Set ups like The Beer Café and The Pint Room give easy access to international brews, be it Belgian or Japanese. And we guzzle away on them hoping someday Indian brews will give these imports competition. “We have seen the evolution of premium vodkas, single malt and wine consumption. Similarly we are seeing a revolution in the beer category,” says Pradeep Gidwani, Coach and Co Founder of The Pint Room. We as consumers have grown and become discerning – from Haywards 5000, Kingfisher to Budweiser and Tuborg, onto Hoegaarden and Asahi, and now Indian microbreweries. And very soon a completely Indian craft beer brand, Gateway Brewing Co, is going to make an entry. They pride themselves in using Indian malts, making their own speciality malts and re-using yeast to keep costs down. Quality has become paramount; it is no longer easy to pacify the consumer. We will not be taken for granted and our opinion is what is driving these changes. All of this however is limited to the metropolitans of the country, but atleast it is a start towards something new.
The move towards craft beers is becoming very apparent. In 2007, a craft beer brand Little Devils was launched and the company, TVB Craft Breweries, had lofty plans which included an investment of Rs 100 crore. If you remember them, the brews were a step-up from what was locally available. Together with the microbreweries which were still in their nascent stage, times seemed exciting. But unfortunately, Little Devils lost its spark and the product fizzled out of the market. And we were back to the imported brews and the slowly developing microbreweries.
Demand for microbreweries has surged dramatically all over the nation, Gurgaon and Bangalore are proof. With more than 4 microbreweries in each city, it is evident that microbreweries are becoming a staple in the food and nightlife scenes of these cities. Recently, and finally Mumbai too has jumped onto this band wagon with the much awaited launch of The Barking Deer beers. Even here quality comes to the limelight. The rule of thumb for these brews are ‘fresher the better’. If they sit and become stale they loose their charm, also crucial since they don’t use stabilizers which commercial beers use. So next time, make sure you get the freshest pint!
But do these guys give the big fellas a run for their money? Gregory Kroitzsh, founder of The Barking Deer doesn’t believe so, “The products are very different and craft breweries are carving out a very different niche in the market. They are essentially expanding the market by creating a new category. Plus craft beers due to their limited distribution primarily in brewpubs alone still have a small portion of the overall market.” He also adds that a brewpub is an experience which is not just beer alone but also the food and service.
Competing with the Big Guys
Commercial beers seem to be on a completely different realm in India. The overall market for beer is still very small here as compared to other nations and there seems to be growth opportunity for everyone. There is a clear distinction in the consumption patterns as well – craft brews and micro breweries will cater to the upper end of India’s market while large scale commercial beers will cater to the large Indian populace. Irrespective of whether craft beers an opportunity or a challenge, commercial beers have taken notice of the evolution. SABMiller is perhaps is one of the first to create something that can only be described as commercial craft beers with their Indus Pride brand. “Craft beers are more evolved and specialised beers; they are finer and unique. Like single malts are sold more than Scotch all over the world, craft beer would have more growth than commercial beers,” believes Rahul Singh, Founder and CEO, The Beer Café.
Statistically, commercial beers with higher alcohol percentage do better in India. Commercial beer brands have gone even further to develop special products to meet this demand. Carlsberg’s Tuborg Booster Strong and United Breweries’ Kingfisher Strong have 8 percent alcohol while, an only for India product, Budweiser Magnum has 6.5 percent alcohol. This brings us to the question of Indians’ inherent need to get a kick from their tipples, beer included. This is also big challenge for the nascent craft beers in India. Efficient supply chain, correct taxation and better price points have come up as possible solutions. Navin Mittal, Partner, Gateway Brewing Co. presents his perspective, “Bang for the buck for a taste seeker is different. He/she doesn’t need 5-6 glasses of beer, 2 are sufficient. Quality versus quantity prevails. And, in the end, it bodes well for our population. Taste over cheap intoxication. As more and more producers of craft beer enter the market, cost of imported ingredients used to make craft beer will drop. Allied businesses to support the craft beer industry will proliferate. All this will, in time, reduce prices and entry barriers for the cost conscious consumer.” So, despite a slow start and growth, there is definitely something to cheer about for those who love a pint of a craft brew.
We asked industry professionals to highlight some trends in the beer segment:
- Proliferation of microbreweries
- Trend towards premium beers
- Women are drinking beer
- Willingness to experiment and try beyond the usual lager beers
- Beer no longer being seen as an alcoholic beverage in educated India
Featured Image Courtesy: The Beer Cafe