Nayan & Shital Shah
Co-founders, Drifters Brewing Company
Drifters Brewing Co., established by Nayan and Shital Shah, was born out of the need for handcrafted beers in the city. Roaming the streets of many western countries in search of the best beer led them to the doorsteps of Honza Kocka, their Brew Master, from Prague. This trio promises to serve originally handcrafted eastern European beers to the people of Mumbai. Drifters Brewing Co. brings to you a unique range of beer specialties that are brewed using the finest Czech malts and best quality hops.
Nayan Shah in conversation with Divyesh Patil & Sonika Choudhury.
Why did you get in this industry?
I tried craft beer in Austria when I was visiting in 2009 and I grew really fond of it. I had no idea there was craft beer in India till very recently. I had not heard of Doolally since I am based out of Gujarat. I was traveling to Mumbai for some work, that’s when I discovered Doolally and realized India also has craft beer. That’s when I thought of getting in this industry.
With unutilized capacity in the market, why did to set up your own plant? What was the time taken from conception to launch?
The difference in cost in outsourcing and manufacturing is monumental. If you’re looking to open only one outlet, then I suggest you don’t invest in your own plant. I plan to open 4-5 outlets in Maharashtra, so for me setting up was crucial. We are also in talks with a few people to set up our taps, it’s not our main distribution model, but we are open to that. It’ll take time, up to 1.5 years. Our brewery is still not operational, we are waiting for our licensing procedure to finish. We started this taproom in February 2018. Currently, we are getting our recipes brewed from somewhere else.
Why a taproom and not onlya production brewery?
I feel that if you don’t have a taproom, it’s very difficult to break-even your brewery investment. To sell, you need to establish a brand, to establish a brand, a taproom becomes important. Taproom gets you a lot of visibility and people start talking about you. Establishing a distribution channel without a taproom gets very difficult.
What was your concept behind the name?
My wife and I are both passionate about traveling. When we decided to open this, we were away from home for at least 8-9 months, moving around the whole of India across states that have the culture of local brewing. We were overseas as well for quite some time; we went to Europe, USA, Canada. We were moving around like drifters, and that’s why the name Drifters!
Who brews in your facility?
We have a brewer from the Czech Republic. He comes in whenever we need to brew. He is traveling to and fro as needed. Our brewery is in Pune and the last couple of batches, I monitored myself. I understand recipes well now. I recently created this recipe; India’s first lager on the profile of IPA, it’s an IPL, Indian Pale Lager. No one has brewed that in India yet.
Gurgaon is a volume game; consumers are not very quality conscious. As I said earlier, for me quality is very important. I don’t wish to brew someplace where quality is not important. Bangalore is a huge investment. There the unit needs to be at least 10,000 sq. ft. In Mumbai, we can set up a brewery as small as 100 sq. ft. I found better opportunities in Mumbai, it has comparatively less competition.
What is the bottleneck process in setting up a brewery in India?
Licensing is the main concern. Set up is not an issue at all. It’s been almost 1.5 years and it is still under process. In Gurgaon the period is not so long, it happens in 2-3 months.
Another challenge that we faced is the lack of awareness of craft beers amongst people. There are very few brewers in our country. It is like a vicious circle. Licenses are not getting issued quickly which is making the gestation period long and increasing capital investment which is discouraging people to invest in this business, giving rise to the problem of slow awareness of craft beers. You need to invest in a place first to get a license, which takes around 1.5-2 years. The money is stuck, and you need to keep investing money in the hope that you will get a license.
This is the reason I don’t see any sense in setting up a production brewery without a taproom or with only a few taprooms. If you want to stop at one brewery, an entire setup is of no value.
Is your equipment imported or locally fabricated? How do you source your ingredients?
Some of the equipment is imported, some are locally fabricated and are of top quality. We wanted to specifically import machinery and imported our malts and hops from Czech. Our yeast is the only product that we are sourcing locally. We buy from suppliers who are traditionally malting since the 1500s. Importing anything is a huge hassle, but it’s worth it.
Why did you choose to have a Mediterranean Spanish cuisine?
Our beers are mostly Eastern European which compliment the flavour of Mediterranean cuisine. We serve a wide variety of gastronomical indulgences – a blend of Turkish, Spanish, Greek, Egyptian and Italian. Ingredients across all these countries are same, the spices are different, and they go very well with the Indian palate. Our regular dishes are also made with a twist, for e.g. we have falafel burger, we have pita sliders with chicken marinated in different Mediterranean herbs. Our food is well received and caters to the niche market. My wife heads the kitchen and is inspired from cuisines around the world. We asked our chefs to work on the recipes that we liked and recreated those dishes according to the Indian palate. It has an element of trial and error, but we control everything. We also have a fine dining restaurant in Vadodara which has a Mediterranean European cuisine.
What according to you, is the most crucial process in the production of beer?
I’d say all processes are equally important. One thing that we need to pay attention to is precision. If you need to replicate your beer, being precise with the ingredients is very important. Another aspect to keep in mind is starting your yeast culture. If fermentation goes wrong, it will create off flavours. Fermenting is a critical process. After adding yeast, there is not much you can do, it’s all up to fate.
How was the response? What was your first step of marketing towards making people aware?
Initially, it was very slow moving. Now it’s picking up as people are getting more aware. Being the only brewery in Kamala Mills helps. We’re are currently present on Zomato and Dine Out and are working on our social media presence. We also keep running social media campaigns along with fun beer games and promotions that ensure customer engagement. We do live gigs, Jazz Brunches, and Stand-up comedy which attracts a lot of crowds. People here don’t like loud music, they come here for a relaxed vibe.
What do you think is the future of this industry?
Commercial beer is growing by 10% every year whereas Craft beer is growing by 15-20% every year. Big players like Carlsberg and Kingfisher also want to get in this industry. If the big players are interested, that means there is definitely something about the industry. It’s attracting a new set of people who wouldn’t drink regular beer earlier. It is no more craft beer v/s craft beer; now it is commercial beer v/s craft beer. European countries have microbreweries since the 1500s, that’s why they’re really big and strong from the roots. I feel the craft beer industry is now growing in India.
Do you think India is accepting the beer culture?
Yes, it will, but it will take time. It is a long process. I have seen, people who don’t drink beer like the taste of craft beer and are open to try it.
What are your expansion plans?
It has to be within Maharashtra because craft beer cannot be transported over long distances. The beer has to be pasteurized to make it viable to transport long distance. I feel beer loses its taste because of it. Craft beer cannot be a game of instant growth in terms of volume. It has to be gradual. The quality of the beer is of immense importance to me. I call my brewer before starting to set up in order to understand and study the market. I really wanted him to understand the taste and was adamant about having the same quality as Czech.