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Exciting Times for Craft Beer in India

Ben Johnson

Owner, INOX Brewery Consulting

As I write this article, I find myself sitting at a beer bar in Brooklyn, NY, staring at 25 taps of various amazing craft beers. There are absurdly hoppy American west coast IPAs, cloudy and soft East Coast IPAs, American sours, barrel aged imperial stouts, beers made with fruit, beers made with spices. The list goes on and on. The amazing thing is, not even one of these beers is made more than 100 miles away from this pub.

I think it is fair to say that the US has become the preeminent craft beer destination in the world. Currently, craft breweries hold a 12.2% market share in the US. This is up from 2.7% in 2004. In 2016 alone 825 craft breweries opened. That is on top of the 844 that opened in 2015 and the 881 in 2014. India has also been very busy. Since I helped open the Barking Deer Brewpub, Mumbai’s first craft brewery, in 2013, at least 4 other breweries have begun production in Greater Mumbai alone. I took a journey to Pune just before leaving the country in 2014 to see Dolly’s expansion, and to see Independent Brewing Company for the first time.

I remember when brewers in India were concerned about whether an IPA would sell – that is no longer a question. The answer is a resounding YES! We currently live in the best craft beer environment possible, and there are no signs of that changing.

This April I attended the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington DC. The trade show exhibition took up a whopping 703,000 square feet of floor space, with manufacturers and suppliers from every segment of the industry. I was specifically there researching suppliers for the Indian market and what I found was quite amazing. Almost every supplier I spoke with had either experience selling in India, was actively trying to tap into the Indian market, or said they would be very interested in getting products to India.

I was amazed to find that DME Brewing Solutions has a partner in Pune and are manufacturing high quality North American style brew systems in India. A major US yeast supplier is trying to figure out a way to ship liquid yeast quickly and reliably. Malting companies are interested in forming a partnership with local malt houses to produce local malt that is up to European and North American standards.

The expanding market in India is at the front of many suppliers’ minds, and with good reason. The recent rapid growth of the craft brewing industry in the US caused many suppliers to expand their infrastructure. Now that growth in America is slowing, these suppliers need new areas to sell their goods, and India is one of the fastest growing, and untapped, segments in the world. This bodes very well for the Indian craft beer market.
It means that supplies such as malt, yeast, and fining agents will be easier to come by, possibly even produced locally. This means cheaper prices for breweries, better quality through competition, and more jobs for the Indian economy. It means your patrons will become more knowledgeable about beer. They will demand more choices, which will mean more creativity for you and your brewers.

I firmly believe that India can attain the same success as the US but it should be aware of the problems first experienced in the US and should learn from their mistakes.

As the industry expands, there will also be more opportunities for distribution. Packaging craft breweries will not only be able to sell kegs to local retailers, but also distribute cans and bottles to the local and international market. Cold supply chains for your product can be developed. The list goes on and on.

With the growth of craft beer in India being so rapid, we as brewers and brewery owners have a responsibility to our consumers to produce the best beer. When the craft beer industry in the US had its first boom in the early 1990s, many brewers had no clue how to produce great beer consistently. As their breweries expanded, their quality declined. They had to learn the hard way that consumers will not be fooled. If a beer tastes bad, they will not drink it. So, what was the result of all this? Most of these new breweries failed and closed their doors forever. Those who survived scaled back and began to focus on quality instead of quantity.

When the second American craft boom began in the mid 2000’s, quality became the first focus. Most new breweries opened with the idea of serving only locally, with their beer being poured exclusively at their taproom and maybe a few other bars and restaurants in their neighbourhood. Most of what they produced was draft. It was only after they worked through their initial problems, and they knew how to produce consistently great beer, that they began to expand to, packaging and wider distribution. This in turn has helped fuel the rest of the industry, which has resulted in the largest number of current breweries operating in US history.

I firmly believe that India can attain the same success as the US but it should be aware of the problems first experienced in the US and should learn from their mistakes.

India is a country where anything is possible. By recognizing and rediscovering the path of the countries that have always had strong beer traditions, observing the advances of countries where craft beer growth has been prolific, and most importantly learning from the mistakes that have been made, India will become a global leader in craft brewing, and that excites me very much!