Plato, the famous Greek philosopher who probably had an answer to every query, is supposed to have said, “He was a wise man who invented beer.” Little wonder, beer is one of the largest consumed alcoholic drinks in the world, with global consumption of 178 million kilolitres in 2020. We Indians, too, love our beer. Consider this: In terms of volume, the beer market was valued at over 5,500 million litres in 2020 and is expected to reach over 9,000 million litres by 2025, expanding at a CAGR of about 10.89 per cent between 2021 and 2025, per a report from Research and Markets.
And while most of the beer is manufactured by the big daddies of the alco-bev industry, over the past few years there has been a storm brewing in the proverbial beer mug. A group of passionate and enthusiastic beer lovers has set up their own breweries, introducing craft beer to thirsty drinkers. And while this is still a small market (around 2-3 per cent for craft beers), it is growing exponentially. Per the report, the market is forecast to grow at 108 per cent in volume terms.
“Craft beer is gaining popularity in India as beer enthusiasts set up their own breweries, introducing the traditional non-mechanised way of beer-making to thirsty drinkers. While this is still a small market (around 2-3 per cent for craft beers), it is growing exponentially, with the market forecast to grow at 108 per cent in volume terms.”
So, what is craft beer? The Oxford Dictionary (yes, it’s in the dictionary) defines it as a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanised way by a small brewery. “It is beer as it was supposed to be, before pasteurisation, chemical stabilisation and artificial flavours,” says Manu Gulati, who set up Effingut Breweries in Pune in 2014.
“I disliked beer thinking of it as something that bloated you. But that was before I tasted craft beer in the UK. My first reaction was that it was ‘effin’ good and that’s how Effingut (gut is good in German) was born.” Today Effingut has two breweries in Pune, and pubs in Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Delhi with 16 variants of beer on tap at each location. It also has growler stations in Mumbai and Pune where you can fill a one litre bottle of beer on tap, consume it at home and then return for a refill.
Effingut rotates around six to eight types of beer and Gulati loves to experiment with seasonal ingredients. So, as summer approaches, plans are on to have mango-infused ale and kokum-infused beer. A couple of years ago he introduced Effingud (gud as in jaggery) as the beer had jaggery, an ode to Lohri as the beer was introduced around that time.
“In the last nine years we have introduced around 300 different variations,” says Gulati, adding that Indians love sweet beer and wheat beer is the most popular. However, palates are developing, he says. Eight years ago, when he launched the IPA or the Indian Pale Ale at the Pune pub, he sold 500 litres in six months; now he sells a 1,000 litres a week. Gulati says the market is growing with more players coming in. He was only the second craft brewer in Maharashtra. Today there are 19.
Of course, no conversation about craft beer can happen without mentioning Bira 91, which introduced us to craft beer in bottles and cans. Bira 91 was established a year after Effingut, in 2015. It brews its various styles of beer across five breweries in India and is enjoyed in over 500 towns across 15 countries.
“Craft beer is defined as beer made in a traditional way by a small brewery. Effingut Breweries, established in Pune in 2014, rotates around six to eight types of beer, and the founder loves to experiment with seasonal ingredients.”
Its signature taprooms in Bengaluru serve 20 kinds of beer on tap and introduce an experimental beer every week. Plans are on to set up a taproom in Delhi-NCR. “At present, we have eight flavours in the Bira 91 beer portfolio ranging from lagers to wheat beers to IPA. We recently launched RISE, India’s first premium rice strong lager, and expanded beyond beer with ‘House of Bira 91’, introducing the ‘Hill-station’ Hard Cider Ale and ‘Grizly’ Hard Seltzer Ale to appeal to a wider audience and drive growth in the premium beverage segment,” says Ankur Jain, CEO, B9 Beverages. Bira, which is backed by Sequoia Capital India, Sofina of Belgium and Kirin Holding of Japan, recently raised $10 million from MUFG Bank.
Then there’s Simba, a passion project of cousins Ishwaraj and Prabhtej Singh Bhatia. Ishwaraj saw the launch of Cobra beer in the UK and thought there was a gap in the Indian market for craft beer. A brewery was set up at Durg in Chhattisgarh and Simba was born in 2016. Available in 15 states with a portfolio consisting of Wit, Light, Stout and Strong, it posted a turnover of Rs 150 crore in FY22. Simba Stout is popular with beer enthusiasts as it is India’s first bottled stout. “We take pride in using local ingredients such as lemongrass, coriander seeds, coffee and orange” says Ishwaraj.