An Owner’s Playbook To Successfully Run A Microbrewery
As lived, preached & practised by Co-founder Priyanka Gupta and Co-founder & CEO Amritanshu Agrawal, Hops ‘n’ Grains and The Great Bear Kitchen and Microbrewery, here is an owner’s playbook to successfully run a microbrewery.
FAVOURABLE climate, the perfect demographics, deep pockets, an experimental phase – for alcohol like beer, now is the time for it to rise and froth. Not only are beer sales predicted to grow by 6.9 per cent in the next five years in India, but more than 500 brewpubs are expected to come up in the same time frame. With more flavours of craft beer in the mix and relaxation of stringent liquor laws, the microbrewery business has just got pretty interesting, and if approached with the right intention and resources, can prove to be a lucrative business. It’s a tempting piece of pie, but before you sink your teeth into it, pay attention to these cardinal rules of starting and running a microbrewery successfully.
Dream & Dare: Before you make a rash decision based purely on demonstration effect, some jackpot you’ve hit, or simply have the extra cash to burn, think hard – do you need a microbrewery? Do you want it or the idea of it, or a brewpub with a club attached? Before diving into the world of microbreweries, we were running a hardcore Indian sweet shop. But my mind was elsewhere – all that travel across Europe inspired me to import some European influences to Chandigarh. After much thought, we decided to invest in a microbrewery. My wife Priyanka and I decided to first do our research – it took us a year, we visited microbreweries across India, learnt the workings, brought master brewer Dr S Cariapa on board, pooled our resources, hired and trained the staff, and opened the first microbrewery of the Tricity (Chandigarh, Panchkula, Mohali), Hops ‘n’ Grains in 2010. Owning a microbrewery cannot be just one of those ten businesses you invest in and wait for to reap dividends. No. It’s a dream you dare to dream and chase. We were at it, and today are successfully running three microbreweries in the Tricity – ours is also the second oldest running microbrewery in India.
The brewery has to be the epicentre of your business, anything else attached to it will dilute the purpose. There has to be clarity: do not get into it because it’s a hot trend or someone suggested it.
Invest, invest, invest: There are no shortcuts to success, nor do the cheap roads take you anywhere. The only way to make a microbrewery stand strong is a solid base, one that has enough investment made in it. Do not cut corners, because the microbrewery is the heart of your operation and you need to go the entire stretch which translates to investing generously in quality equipment, from a supplier who is consistent in delivery. The quality of machines used in the manufacturing of edible items makes a huge difference. Instead of going for a cheaper plant, think of technical and troubleshooting aspects of a beer plant that may be required in near future.
Know your numbers: With all the rules and regulations, the endless licenses and clearances, the liquor business is a challenging business to set up and run in this country. My advice would be- know your numbers because there is exceptionally high taxation in this industry. The business has to make financial sense, and you have to be up to date with the laws and regulations of the liquor world.
Area-wise: Location is crucial to setting up a brewing outlet. When we opened doors to Hops ‘n’ Grains in Panchkula, we made sure it was a space designed as a showstopper. Glass ceilings connected with a glass bridge, tall wooden chairs and tables, and the brewery vats visible behind a glass shield lent an extra edge to the place. With The Great Bear Kitchen and Microbrewery in Chandigarh, we decided to open up the space to a vertical green wall, while in Hops ‘n’ Grains Mohali, it’s red bricks and a log-hut feel. So, when investing in a microbrewery, pick a good, central location, give it enough space, and don’t pack it like a tin of sardines. Keep an open plan, and spacious, and create an ambience that lets the beer ferment and people breathe and enjoy. Remember, it’s the experiential you are gunning for, it’s about creating a vibe and energy and making the entire experience memorable.
Quality Matters: Needless to say, quality trumps it all. The type of material used in beer decides the taste you will offer to your customer. Make sure to use good quality material rather than focusing on the price or just profit. We import our hops and malts from Germany – it’s challenging, but the work is worth it. Quality is non-negotiable on the brewery checklist. The equipment, the raw material, the interiors, the food – everything has to be the best. It is equally important to maintain consistency because people come back looking forward to the same taste and experience. Similarly, invest in a quality team and reliable supplier who is well-versed in the brewing industry, as they’ll be able to guide you on the path to success with both your gas and equipment needs.
The Brew Master: The right brew can be achieved only with the right brewmaster. You cannot have a microbrewery without an experienced, intelligent, innovative brewmaster who knows his hops, malts and all the chemistry to create magic, every day, every season, all year. We are in a good place because of mentoring from India’s best brewmaster Dr S Cariapa and our in-house brewmaster, Gagan Deep. Experience does make a difference because the person knows what to give on taps along with how to resolve any beer-related issue swiftly without hampering the beer production and quality. So, hire /invest in a full-time passionate brewer/brewmaster.
Be innovative: In the initial years, we played it safe, with a solid line-up of craft beer. I was conservative with my choices. But the key to success is to step out of the comfort zone, to be curious, to innovate, and to experiment because variety and change are what a customer looks forward to. Over the years, we’ve become more experimental in our layout, our menu, and our beer and drinks, offering new or adding surprising elements to craft beer. Belgian, Irish, Rice, German … play with the styles, the flavours, the ingredients.
Kitchen Confidential: What is being offered on the table along with the beverage makes a huge difference. Remember the brewery is not operating in isolation – there is a kitchen attached to it, and along with the ambience, food accentuates the experience. So, when you are planning to install a beer plant, focus on the kitchen area, plan a good wholesome menu and invest in a brilliant chef because the type of food served with beer must complement each other. You cannot have beer served with Dal Makhni!
Keep it Clean: Cleanliness is sacrosanct. No compromises here. The functioning of a brewery smoothly and successfully can only take place in a clean, hygienic, sanitised environment. Beer is liquid bread full of vitamins. It’s a nutritious beverage, fermented and rich in protein which makes it good for the gut. But this is where the tricky part lies, because of the protein, there is a tendency for contamination or infection to occur during the brewing process. So make sure you have a clean, hygienic system in place, and all fittings are sanitised, because not only can the beer go bad, but it can also taste foul: it spoils very fast. Maintain your beer lines: the line that takes the beer to the tap. Customer experience depends on this. Lines have to be regularly sanitised and cleaned, or else the beer flowing through it will lose carbonation and foam and become hot and flat.