A technology professional with a master’s degree in electronics engineering, Ajay Nagarajan seems to be an unlikely person who is so much in love with craft beer. But that is where his passion comes from and which transformed into brew pubs.
While working in the US, Ajay was a passionate home brewer and was almost certain his passion would turn into an enterprise someday. His hobby became a professional option when he enrolled in one of America’s oldest brewing schools the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, to learn the art and business of brewing.
“Friends coming from India would speak of the changing environment back home. In 2010 we heard that licences were being issued to craft breweries,” Ajay recalls.In 2011, the market was still sparse.He met several people, but his meeting with the Total Environment team Shibanee and Kamal Sagar bore fruit. Kamal is a music enthusiast and had been looking for an opportunity to combine his interests food and music.
A technology professional with a master’s degree in electronics engineering, Ajay Nagarajan seems to be an unlikely person who is so in love with craft beer. But that is where his passion comes from.
Ajay’s passion was taking form. Roping in Chef Manjit Singh to draw up a menu for the F&B, they started working on the brewery. While drawing up the technical requirements, identifying the required raw material was the first step. “We imported our entire equipment from JVNW Inc, in Oregon, USA. About 5 years ago, it cost us approximately $300, 000, with 40% in duty and shipping. The total cost came to about ₹8 crores, including the interiors, licences and kitchen equipment. We spent about ₹3 crores on the brewery.”
The brewery location was a picturesque dead end lane in Whitefield, Bangalore. But what it had going, was the vicinity of the stylish luxury villas designed by Total Environment, surrounded by the corporate buildings of top global IT brands. Set amidst a scenic view of tall glass buildings nestled amid greenery, Windmills Craftworks was planned as the perfect place to hang out, with light music, books and craft beer. We envisioned a place which brought the finer things in life together – great beer, great food, great music and an eclectic ambience. “We weren’t even sure it would work,” Ajay recalls. “We thought we will give it our best and see what happens.”
But almost immediately after it opened in 2012, Windmills Craftworks became very popular. Bangalore traffic plays havoc with commuting routines and that works both in its favour and against it. Just as people cannot make it to Whitefield easily, Whitefield residents cannot make it to the city easily.
This has made the brew pub and restaurant one of the best places to hang out in Whitefield. It is a classy place with regular live music performances, books, great food, and of course, craft beer!
Windmills happened after meeting the challenges successfully. “The biggest problem was licensing,” which was not clear in many aspects making it verypainful to set up anything liquor related in India.”
The brewery equipment needed specialised plumbing and sanitary welding was another challenge.
Fighting these challenges, Ajay imported the brewery and a consultant brew master Ed Tringali, who he had met while in the US, to set up the brewery and plan the production. Tringali stayed on for three years and put the brewery in gear. “Ed installed and commissioned the brewery, designed recipes and trained the people who worked under him, before he left,” Ajay says. His place was taken by Amit Rajan Mishra another brewer from Herriot Watt.
As a passionate brewer himself Ajay still faces the challenges of originality, “there is very little talent. You must spend money on that. A degree or theoretical knowledge is not enough. Taste buds guide you, you learn with experience and exposure, but that is what is missing. Craft beer knowledge takes time to understand and absorb, sometimes a good five years.You need to have worked abroad, in a county with a rich beer tradition. Unless that is done, it’s hard to understand beer that is called craft.”
“We weren’t even sure it would work. We thought we will give it our best and see what happens.”
Windmills Craftworks embodies the spirit of a guest who likes to spend time with a glass of craft beer, good soothing music- jazz, blues or anything like that. “It’s not a pub with loud music, where you cannot have a conversation. It has a very different ambience-soothing, with an intellectual twist to it. The music is primarily jazz, mixed in with other genres, always at a volume that allows a decent conversation, and its strategic location helped us too” says Ajay.
The brewery has already acquired regular clients and the response has been unprecedented. There are now plans to move forward faster.
“Unfortunately, in Karnataka the excise laws do not allow us to distribute. We cannot keg, we cannot sell to other places. It’s not easy to scale up in Karnataka, but Maharashtra does allow us to distribute. So, we will look at Pune and Mumbai next, to keg and sell. These are the states we would want to sell our product,” Ajay says “but there is room for improvement in the policies like beer distribution and bottling.”
But the Craft Brewers Association of India (CBAI) and is now trying to make in roads into these issues, “We have hired a lawyer to help us change the current situation. We can do a lot more for the industry in terms of advertising, holding festivals and promotions,” he adds.
Today, Windmills Craftworks, brews 4 styles of beer – the Stout, IPA, Golden Ale and Hefeweizen. In addition, there are some fruit beers which are seasonal. “We are brewing true to style”.