A Gateway To The World Of Craft Beers
Mumbai’s Gateway Brewing Co. has completed 8 years of serving freshly brewed craft beers. One of the first microbreweries in the state of Maharashtra, Gateway Brewing is known for introducing a host of new beer styles brewed with locally sourced ingredients. With flagship beers such as White Zen, Doppelganger and Bombay Porter, it is a true gateway to the world of craft beers.
Over these 8 years, Gateway Brewing Co. has experimented with unique and classic beer styles along with eccentric collaborations that has put the brand on the forefront of the craft beer movement in the country. On this occasion, we interviewed Navin Mittal, co-founder of Gateway Brewing Company to talk about his journey along with a limited-edition anniversary brew – Early Riser.
So, where did it all begin and how did Gateway Brewing Co. come to life?
I have always been consuming beer throughout my college years and beyond. But, I never thought about what the alcoholic drink was or where it came from as I never paid any attention to it. So, when I was in the US, I came across different types of beers, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Hoegaarden and these beers had different character and flavour to them.
But then I came back to India in 2003 and, uh, we went back to square one. The only option was Kingfisher and a few other variants. You also had certain imports which were obviously expensive.
In 2006, I discovered that over a million people brew beer in the United States at home and all it needs is four basic ingredients. It seemed like a very interesting thing to kind of read up on and dig deeper. Eventually, after reading up on it and listening to podcasts, I knew what was required and I started making beer at home and a blog called Indian beer geek.
Sometime in 2010, I was thinking about, uh, getting into the space of making these beers, selling them and making them available to people in at least Mumbai to start with. And, uh, I thought that it would fill a gap in the market. Rahul and Krishna, who are co-founders of the company, had got in touch with me and we kind of put our heads together and we said, okay, let’s do something in this space.
Finally, after getting a licence in 2014, we started brewing on January 29th and yeah, that’s how it all began.
Before setting up Gateway, did you pivot your career from other industries to this? If not, can you throw a spotlight on your early days which lead to Gateway Brewing Co.?
So I have been in various industries, as I mentioned, I was in the US, I was studying there. I was working with software tech, and came back to India.
Basically doing a lot of tech and internet stuff. And then, 2008 came around where the whole internet space got shaken up. So that’s when I said, I’m done with the internet and need to focus on other things. Eventually, I pivoted into investments and financial arbitrage along with beer. And here we are today.
What is Gateway Brewing Company’s theme and culture?
Our goal was, and still is to a large extent, to be the gateway to various styles of international beers, produced locally using local ingredients.
You have your classic styles, you have your experimental series and you have your local ingredients. So we were the first ones. Like I said, my goal was to use Indian ingredients and make this available to our consumers and start educating them and kind of making them aware that beer can be a lot more than what they have believed so far.
Having been pioneers in this space, we are still true to our initial ethos of producing different styles of beers, and making them available constantly, for our consumers, like in 2020, we launched, I think, over 20 different variants of our beers, and we’ve lived through that with a gateway to various styles of beers.
As a true passionate beer consumer, I want to explore and create something new. So yeah, we are here and we continue to produce what we think that people will love.
Early Riser is an anniversary special brew at Gateway. Could you tell us why a Golden Ale was chosen as a beer to celebrate the 8th anniversary and what is its significance?
Every year, when it comes down to our anniversary month, we think about what we should release that can be significant for us and give us excitement and joy. To come out of the pandemic and celebrate the eighth anniversary, it was like rising again or being born again.
The thought was to go back to our roots and see when was the first time we infused tea in our beers? And we felt the amalgamation of tea, especially earl grey, which has a beautiful bergamot orange aroma would be very good and refreshing with a light golden ale that lifts you up. Hence the name, Early Riser.
Ah I see! And I’ve come across some of your beers like White Zen or Mizu and they sound like Japanese Inspired names? Do you have a prior exposure to Japanese beer or their culture?
Mizu is a Japanese restaurant and, uh, we’ve been suppliers for over five years. When they were opening up a restaurant, we were thinking about a beer, something which is Japanese in nature, thought and flavour. Since I had the chance to drink Japanese beer when I was in Singapore, I thought maybe we can try Umeboshi.
White Zen is our flagship, it’s a Hefeweizen. When we brewed it for the first time, we were thinking about what to call it. That’s when it struck me that Hefeweizen was a white beer and then why not give it a spiritual name of White Zen where it also rhymes with the German pronunciation of Weizen.
So, you have a Certificate in Brewing from Brewlab UK. And you also have a lot of experience in homebrewing. Which of these had come first? Did you decide to homebrew as a hobby and then pursue a degree to shape things up?
Homebrewing came first and I was already doing it from 2006 to 2011 when I went to Brewlab. And as one would say, if you spend 10,000 hours as a hobby you become a master. So, I’ve probably spent that many hours and then I went to the UK. It was a great experience to actually see the microbreweries operating in the UK and immersing myself in the culture of beer.
It was really fascinating as the world of English beers is completely different from what one would see in the United States. So, it was a beautiful immersion followed by a lot of learning. A lot of passion got reignited through that course and obviously that clubbed with homebrewing led to Gateway!
Do you have any advice that you’d love to put out there for aspiring brewers?
It depends on what you want to do. One needs to think very clearly about their role and if they want to be a brewer whose actual role is to manage the brewery, put together recipes, the actual production, dispatches and so on and so forth.
Most people say, okay, I want to be in this business and I like drinking beer. But we don’t think hard enough about what role do I want myself to be undertaking over the next 5 to 10 years.
One piece of advice would be to talk to brewers and understand what their typical day’s like, what kind of work they do day in and day out and see whether that fascinates you. Otherwise, if you think that you’re a business person and you can put together money and you can put together a few good brewers and have the technical knowledge to get that going, then you get into the business of beer. So first be clear on that. And after that, you kind of decide on how to move.
What’s your take on brewery collab-brews? Does it really help the community or is it just to show people that all brewers are united?
No, it’s neither.
The whole craft brewing community is very closely knit right now. I know every craft brewery in Maharashtra, or at least a majority of them. And, if I go to Bangalore, there are quite a few breweries there that I know. So it’s a fraternity that knows each other.
When two of them come together there is a potential of creating something very interesting and unique. There’ll be a mixing of stories, thoughts and ethos. So it’s all a lot of fun.
It’s a beautiful story to tell and what emerges from there is a lovely product. Those who are passionate about craft beer would appreciate that story and would be attracted towards coming in and trying out that beer. It’s an initiative that keeps people and fraternity engaged.
Is there something about the Indian beer market that you didn’t anticipate 8 years ago or before setting up Gateway Brewing and wish you’d have known before?
I would probably say that I wish I had done a lot more research in the policies in various states. But again, there were not too many policies as such back then.
Goa has emerged as a policy, which is flexible and the most benign. So in hindsight, I really can’t say that I should’ve waited since we started way back, way too early, but I would probably start in Goa and take it forward from there.
The second thing is we are an emerging market. We have a lot of policies and bureaucracy that counter business growth. Business could have been at a different level, had policies been shaped sooner.
When we were up and running, I started lobbying for the change in capacity. We were allowed to produce only 2 lakh litres and eventually it went up to five lakh litres. Also kind of lobbied for the ability to bottle and sell directly to consumers, but that never happened up until now. These kinds of difficulties have prevented the growth of at least Maharashtra craft breweries.
So again, going back, these are the certain things I would have thought about.
How has the pandemic impacted your business? We’ve seen you opening up a taproom & growler station. Has the pandemic pushed you to open more delivery/pick-up outlets so that people just drink at home instead of stepping out?
Our restaurant obviously went through a lot of pain. It was shut down and reopened several times. So that essentially shows that there’s no business. Whatever resources you have, get burned up.
As far as my brewery is concerned, our major business came from full-time bars and restaurants, pre-pandemic. The moment restaurants and bars shut down, our business came to a grinding halt. We lost a lot of beer. All the losses kept mounting up. Then we had an opportunity to open a growler station. So we opened one. We did not go headlong and open too many.
We just hope that things get back to normal so that if the restaurants are doing well, it can fund some of the losses of the brewing operations for at least a couple of more years. We are set up in such a way that there is only little money to be made. So it’s been difficult but again, it’s a business that we love doing.
What does 2022 have in store for Gateway Brewing Co.? Do you have any plans to expand the microbrewery footprint to other metros? Or, are you looking to package your flagship beers and distribute it across the country?
At least for the next six months, we are not looking to get to other cities, but we are keen on doing something in Pune, we are keen on opening a couple of growler stations, maybe a taproom as well. But, we are not funded, so it’s our own money that goes into the business. We are not in a rush and we’ll take it slower to see how the next three months are.
So yeah, a cautious approach.
A Brewer World exclusive interview.