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Not Another Lager

Umang Nair


The consumption of beer has been on the rise in the country and riding on this trend a lot of new outlets focusing on beer are coming up including microbreweries and pubs alike. Craft beer has emerged as a strong product category, especially among the high-spending urban youth that is looking for something different when it comes to their beer drinking experience. Market research reports forecast a growth in beer sales in volume terms of 6.9% annually between 2018 and 2022, reaching 6.5 billion litres annually in 2022. While the craft beer segment is still very nascent, it is projected to grow at a 20% year-on-year rate. Behind the curtain of all you favourite brews, without a doubt is where the real magic takes place. From identifying the most suitable ingredients, being able to recognise what components give specific flavour & aroma profile, from crafting the perfect recipes to infusions that leave us drooling for more. A Brewmaster plays an active role in every step of the beer development process. A lot of study and practice goes into earning the title of a ‘Brewmaster’.

Umang Nair, Brewmaster at La Casa, The Brew & Barbeque & Simon Says located in Bangalore, and MYZ-UNO in Vizag in conversation with BW about his passion for brewing and the journey till date.

Why did you decide to become a brewer? How did you go about achieving the same?

While pursuing engineering, I had only two interests – football and beer. In the few years of working as an engineer, I realised premium spirits and single malts were imported but beer as an alcohol category had not changed, there were several brands but still they all were the same style: lagers. Having limited access to good beer got the engineer in me working and I brewed my first batch of craft beer with great difficulty in procuring ingredients. The process of creating beer from raw ingredients was so intellectually stimulating that my day job seemed insipid! A year into part-time brewing I decided to shift my complete focus on craft beer. India was at an extremely nascent stage of craft brewing then, only a few brewpubs existed.

I started working with India’s first production microbrewery, Gateway Brewing Company in Mumbai for few years and then went on to pursue a Master Brewer Program at the World Brewing Academy. The World Brewing Academy is an initiative by Siebel Institute Chicago, USA & Doemens Academie Munich, Germany. It is a great mix of knowledge in modern craft beer & brewing from America and traditional beer brewing from Germany.

Talk to us about your experience working as a brewMaster?

The fanciest part of being a brewmaster, according to me is when we talk to people about the process of brewing, everything else is a lot of hard work! It involves a lot of physical labour, keeping in check multiple variables that affect the quality, unpredictable work hours and creative troubleshooting. I love the job because it is intellectually stimulating, it keeps me on my toes and the reward of course is happy customers and appreciation of the brew. Since craft beer as a product is fairly new in India, challenges range from restrictive creative freedom due to raw material availability and customer education to finding the right personnel for manufacturing, handling and serving the final product. Our job as brewers is to overcome these challenges and pour a perfect pint every single time while educating the customer.

Your career has allowed you to brew in different regions of the country. what are your thoughts on customers taste preferences?

India has been a predominantly lager consuming country, craft beer is a fairly new entry into the market. As consumers, we are only beginning to understand what craft beer is and its perception. From my experience studying in mature markets like America and Germany, and then working in different parts of India, it is clear we are on the cusp of a craft beer renaissance. Current preference is generally wheat based beers i.e Belgian Witbier, Hefeweizen which is a logical transition from lagers as they are subtle on the palate. But I see the trend shifting to more complex beers like Pale ales and Stouts in the near future.

What would you rate as challenges that affect the production of good beers in India?

As I mentioned earlier the challenges range from availability of raw material to trained personnel. When it comes to microbreweries, 90% of them are brewpubs meaning the beer is served where it is made. You could be brewing the best beer in the country but if the server is not trained well and cannot convey that to the consumers you lose a customer. When it comes to production microbrewies shelf life and storage of beer pose as a challenge since craft beer is delicate and needs proper handling to retain the flavour that the brewer intended you to taste. If we speak of bottled craft beer where the scale is even bigger for raw materials, logistics and distribution of the beer are a bottleneck.

“You could be brewing the best beer in the country but if the server is not trained well and cannot convey that to the consumer you lose a customer. When it comes to production microbrewery shelf life and storage of beer pose as a challenge since craft beer is delicate and needs proper handling to retain the flavour that the brewer intended you to taste. If we speak of bottled craft beer where the scale is even bigger raw materials, logistics and distribution of the beer are a bottleneck.”

How do you attempt to ameliorate the problem of increasing production while maintaining a real flavourful, individualistic beer?

It is a good problem to have but I believe no beer is better than substandard beer. I recently encountered a similar problem at a brewpub where we almost hit full capacity and had to increase production. One way of doing that is prioritising the styles of beer that are most popular meaning discontinuing one or more styles and dedicating production capacity to the ones customers demand. Another way would be to add production capacity in the brewery by adding tanks. Scheduling is key to maintain the balance between increasing production and maintaining great beer quality.

What are your thoughts on the rising beer markets in India? And your thoughts on the future of these markets?

From only 2 brewpubs in 2008 today there are more than 120 across India, I think that number is quite a testament of the rising beer markets in India. Currently, the trend is limited to metropolitan cities, but soon enough tier 1 and tier 2 cities will catch up. As far as the future is concerned I am positive this is just the beginning and we have a long way before we become a mature craft beer market.

How do you decide on new beers to brew? What style is the most fun to brew?

Since my brewing days my favourite part of brewing has been creating new beer recipes. Brewing is a fine mix between science and art. Science because ingredients in recipes depend on equations and some math but art because when all of it comes together its only about the perception of the beer Aroma, Appearance, Flavour and Mouthfeel which is subjective and personal. I try to keep up with the global trends while incorporating local ingredients available in my beers. Every aspect of brewing from creating recipes to eventually seeing the customer enjoy your beer is satisfying. It is the love for the process which would be difficult and unfair if I were to point at a style and say it is most fun to brew.

If there were a beer that you could brew with no regards to cost or production or sales, what would it be and why?

If given the creative freedom with no regards to other factors – Pale Ales and India Pale Ales would be the ideal choice. They are such complex and versatile styles. As of now with regards to raw material availability they are expensive and less popular among consumers because of their perception as bitter. I believe a good beer strikes the right balance between the sweetness and bitterness which becomes great and session-able beer. It is only a matter of time before this style become mainstream.

What is your brew motto?

Beer everywhere else is not considered an alcohol category but a beverage compared to other soft drinks. My brew philosophy derives from there and is simply making beers that are drinkable, balanced and consistent. I am continuously trying to experiment and improve the beer batch after batch while maintaining the drinkability and flavour.

Rapid Fire:

Favourite Beer Pub in India and Abroad

  • Few Breweries in Maharashtra and Karnataka.
  • New Glarus Brewing Co. in Wisconsin

All-time favored ingredient to brew with & why?

Hops. Love the aroma and flavour it adds

Top-3 beers on your beer-bucket list to try?

  • Pliny the younger, Russian River Brewing Co.
  • Heady Topper, The Alchemist Brewing Co. Grand Cru, Rodenbach

Top 2 Beer destinations you’ve been waiting to visit?

Portland, USA & Brussels, Belgium

Any advice you’d like to share with upcoming brewers?

Brewing is a tedious and an ever-evolving process. Be through with the process and always be open to learning.