Microbreweries honing art of bottling craft
Several microbreweries plan to launch bottled units of craft beer, but large-scale production remains a challenge.
Their craft beer, originally made in small batches for consumption at brewpubs, will be initially launched at retail stores in markets such as Goa, Bengaluru, Pune and Gurugram. So far, India has seen just a few craft beer brands such as Bira, White Owl and Simba, sold off shelves despite nearly 170 microbreweries that opened over the past decade.
“Karnataka government does not allow brewpubs to distribute in-house beer and we are permitted to produce a maximum of just 1000 litres a day,” said Ajay Nagarajan, cofounder of Bengaluru-based brewpub Windmills Craftworks that will start producing cans of craft beer from their newly-acquired 2000-litre production brewery in Goa. The company will sell the brand in markets such as Mumbai, Pune, Goa and Hyderabad.
Toit, one of Bengaluru’s first brewpubs which makes about 1500 litres of craft beer each day and is setting up a 4-acre production brewery outside the city to launch four variants of packaged beer.
India’s craft beer industry accounts for 2-3% of the country’s beer market which is largely skewed towards the stronger version. The surge of interest in craft beer has been driven by millennials, many particularly interested in this form of beer that is more authentic, premium and has a complex flavour compared to regular lager sold by MNCs. “Brewpubs make good experience centres that help scale a brand,” said Gaurav Sikka, officer of Craft Brewers Association of India (CBAI) and MD of Arbor Brewing Co, which started the trend a year ago in Goa with three variants in can- format.
It will add two more variants in the next quarter and will enter Bengaluru market in the next four months.
But making and selling craft beer at alarger scale isn't easy. Besides licenses and distribution, brewpubs have to wrestle with cold chain supply infrastructure, short shelf-life of craft beer and smaller budgets compared to United Breweries, Ab InBev and and Carlsberg that together control 90% of the market. As a result, many are planning to roll out variants such as hefeweizen, stout and light golden ale - that can survive better in these tough conditions. And some are opting for pricier cans to package their products instead of glass bottles.
“Cans are lighter, unbreakable, carry more branding information, have little oxygen uptake and do not allow light to enter easily, unlike bottles,” said Shailendra Bist, cofounder of Independence Brewing Co, a 5-yearold brewpub based in Pune.
The renewed aggression of launches comes at a time when existing players such as Bira, White Owl and Arbor Brewing are expanding, many in regular beer segment. Bira just launched Bira Boom recently, while Simba will add two more variants after July this year.
Beer evangelist John Eapen noted that investors also want to move away from the hassle of running food and beverage outlets and prefer a large industrial production unit.
“International craft beer brands, one from Finland and another from UK, are looking to collaborate and set up bottling plants in India to retail now. Big commercial beer brands are also waiting, and will hop on the craft brewery segment in the next two-three years. This is just the beginning of the next wave,” Eapen said.