Moonshine Meadery wants to change how India drinks and makes merry
Pune-based Moonshine Meadery brings the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage to India. Its beverages are now sold in 225 stores and restaurants across Mumbai and Pune.
Nitin Vishwas chanced upon mead, said to be the “drink of the gods”, in an inflight magazine. The article on the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man ignited the interest of this hobbyist brewer; soon after he landed, he excitedly shared the information with Rohan Rehani, a close friend who shared his interest.
The duo, both engineers by training, had worked with large corporates like McKinsey, Abbott, and Monster. Now, they decided to experiment with mead, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey with water, sometimes with various fruits, spices, grains, or hops.
And Moonshine Meadery was born.
The co-founders, who started experimenting with mead in 2014, signed the lease to their meadery in 2016.
What is mead?
The American Mead Makers Association describes mead as a fermented beverage made primarily from honey. “It is also the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, predating both beer and traditional grape wine by thousands of years,” the association says. The drink, which pre-dates agriculture, finds mentions in Vedic texts and Viking folklore and has an alcohol content ranging between 4 percent and 18 percent.
Nitin, 34, who hails from Mysore, says, “Rohan and I were gifted home brewing kit and intended to make beer at home. It was not commercially; both of us had this romantic idea of making alcohol at home.”
Researching mead led the duo to realise that this alcoholic beverage was closer home as many communities in India still brew local liquor.
The duo started making traditional meads at home. Soon, they began experimenting with local produce like hops, grapes, and seasonal fruit.
Friends served as unofficial tasters, and they loved the new beverage. Not long after, Nitin and Rohan contemplated stopping production as it was proving expensive. But their tasters turned around and said they would be willing to pay. That was the duo’s Eureka moment, the moment they decided to follow the mead-making business through.
Lacking professional brewery experience, Rohan undertook an internship at Colony Meadery in Pennsylvania, US, and also a bee-keeping course as honey is a key ingredient of mead.
“We spoke to people, especially those in the craft beer business, and they gave us a lot of inputs,” says Rohan, 34, who believes the making of mead is both an art and science. The craft beer makers, especially Independence Brewing Company and Doolally, also guided the two entrepreneurs who in turn collaborated with these microbreweries for special experimental batches.
In January 2016, they took up an old cement factory in Pune to set up India’s first meadery. They ran into their first challenge soon after: mead was not recognised as an alcoholic beverage as it could not be fit into any category. The co-founders connected with the Excise Department of Maharashtra for the creation of a new category; it took one-and-half-years to receive the licence, which allowed them to get into commercial production.
They began with two varieties – apple cider and coffee. “We needed a mead people could get excited about. We saw cider was extremely popular at microbreweries and chose that. Coffee we picked because it would strongly connect with the youth and new coffee movement of today. We thought we needed meads to polarise people; neutrality will not work,” remarks Rohan.
The first bottle from Moonshine Meadery was ready in February 2018.
Rohan says, “When the first dispatch went, I had my heart in the mouth. The sales in the first weekend confirmed that there was a market for this drink.”
Today, Moonshine Meadery, which started from a single location, is present in 225 stores and restaurants across Mumbai and Pune. They offer two products – Apple Cyder Mead and Coffee Mead priced at Rs 220 for a 330 ml bottle (alcohol content 6.5 percent). The apples are sourced from Kashmir while the coffee is from Chikmagalur. It currently produces around 6000-10,000 litres of mead a month.
The first outlet Moonshine Mead sold at was Haiko Mall in Powai. Today, it has tie-ups with Yellow Banana Food Company, Pizza by the Bay, Nature’s Basket, and some locations of Social, an urban hangout chain.
Nitin says they did not have any benchmark for mead, but their research made them realise that Indians preferred a sweeter alcoholic beverage. The addition of carbonated drinks to whisky, rum, and vodka – across segments – shows this to be true.
The addition of honey - sourced from Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra – adds some floral complexity and a mild sweetness that helps create the taste mead is known for.
“The proof of the pudding was when we sent out the first batch; the stock was exhausted within a week,” Rohan says.
According to Statista, revenue from the alcoholic drinks market in India is around $67 billion for 2018; it is expected to grow annually by 7.9 percent CAGR between 2018-21. There are a very few alcoholic beverage startups in India; the list includes I Brands Beverage (offers a range of alcohol beverages) and HipBar (largely into delivery of alcohol beverages).
The core clientele for Moonshine’s meads are people in the age group of 24 and 35 years.
Cheers to the future
In the future, Moonshine Meadery plans to brew something new constantly to retain interest and excitement.
“We will come out with small batches,” says Nitin, adding that the uniqueness of mead is that it primarily highlights the local produce during a particular season.
Moonshine Meadery also runs the Mead Lab Series, where it experiments with new flavours. These are dispatched in select and limited batches. The flavours experimented with range from Assam Tea, Mango Chilli, Guava Chilli, Gooseberry Vanilla, etc.
The startup, which employs nine people, received a seed round of funding some time back from an angel investor group and high net worth individuals. It is now in talks with a few investors to fund its expansion plans.
Moonshine Meadery has doubled its production capacity ahead of schedule and is going to soon quadruple this. They plan to continue entering new states and export internationally in the next couple of years. This startup, which had an initial capacity of 2,000 litres, will touch 25,000 litres by the end of this month. It is eyeing the Goa, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Karnataka, and Delhi markets.