[Startup Bharat] How these entrepreneurs left their cushiony lives in the US to craft a successful Indian beer brand
Think of Goa and the first thing that comes to our mind is its serene beaches, delicious sea-food, and susegado. Every traveller visiting the Konkan heaven looks for the same -- a relaxed and laid-back vacation. And amidst the beautiful foothills of the Western Ghats in North-East Goa, the Varshnei family is brewing konkan flavours into the world’s third-most popular beverage - beer.
Goa-based Latambarcem Brewers was founded by brothers Aditya Ishan Varshnei and Anish Varshnei. It has two brands under its umbrella -- Maka di, its beer brand; and kombucha brand Borécha. While Borécha was launched in July 2019, the startup launched Maka di in October this year.
Incorporated in 2017, Latambarcem Brewers was founded to bridge the gap in the Indian craft-beer market.
“We recognised the need for an alco-bev ecosystem based on innovation and research, and aimed to be a pioneer,” Aditya Ishan (28) tells YourStory.
Illustration courtesy: YS Design
Meet the family
Director and CEO Aditya Ishan is a graduate in Nanoengineering and Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, San Diego and Columbia University, respectively. He has earlier worked as a Business Analyst at DRB Capital (portfolio fund of Blackstone). His younger brother Anish (26), the Chief Production Officer, is a Culinary Science graduate from The Culinary Institute of America.
Both the brothers left their cushiony lifestyles in the US and moved back to Goa with “The sole objective of using research and innovation to make craft beer, which would pass the most exacting standards,” Aditya Ishan says.
Their father, Pradeep Varshnei, hails from a family of entrepreneurs involved in the glassware production business. However, Pradeep later diversified into real-estate and is now the Chairperson of Latambarcem Brewers.
The Varshnei family: (From L-R) Anish Varshnei, Sarika Varshnei, Pradeep Varshnei, and Aditya Ishan Varshnei
Anish used to earlier run a high-end beach restaurant with his mother Sarika Varshnei, who is also the Chief Growth Officer of Latambarcem Brewers. “Our vision of Latambarcem brought us all together to Goa,” Aditya Ishan says.
The family has bootstrapped the business by investing around Rs 25 crore.
Latambarcem has a team of up to 40 full-time employees working across departments. Additionally, it has a team of up to 10 associates and freelancers working in the marketing, creative and branding, and communications teams.
Locally-crafted global beer
Latambarcem is the largest village in the cluster of villages, which form the panchayat where the brewery is located. “It is our way of acknowledging the importance of the local area where we are established and indicative of our consistent efforts to work closely with the community,” Aditya explains.
Its Kombucha brand, Borécha, means good tea in Konkani. And the phrase Maka di, means ‘Give me’ in Konkani.
The founders’ long-term goal for Maka di is to manufacture and make high-quality beer available that would be on par with those made in Europe and the US.
When asked about selecting Goa as the headquarters, Aditya says: “Goa offers a great advantage of living, working, and establishing businesses in a cleaner environment.”
Maka di Honey Ale
Secondly, being the ‘tourism nerve centre’ of the country, Goa helps the brand with an opportunity to serve the discerning beer-drinking travellers from across the globe. “This in turn will allow us to be accepted in some of those countries where these tourists come from when we foray into the international market,” Aditya says.
Additionally, Goa offers an abundance of clean and high-quality water, which is of strategic importance, considering water is one of the important resources in the making of beer.
Crafting international standards
The alco-bev startup’s operational model revolves around the concept of optimised production of premium craft beverages, and using highest quality of natural ingredients from across the globe. “Our model is based on research and innovation, with a heavy focus on technology to bring innovative craft beverages in the hands of our consumers,” Aditya explains.
Latambarcem Brewers’ brewery has the capacity to produce up to 10,000 cases of beer a month, making it the largest commercial craft beer producer in the country. The distillery is unique in the sense that at any given point in time, the brew masters work on 50-odd recipes in its R&D lab.
For the four varieties of Maka di, the startup sources honey from Jim Corbett, orange peel from Valencia, lemon from Sisley, and malts and yeast from different parts of Europe. For its range of kombucha, it sources teas from Darjeeling and Assam.
Maka di Honey Ale beer
“We create beers of international quality and then add our own touch of the tropics into those beers so that the uniqueness of Indian flavours enhances the taste,” Aditya says. “We use a contemporary technique of craft brewing with the help of modern equipment to give an innovative twist to all the traditional styles of beer,” he adds.
One of the variants of Maka di, the Belgian Triple, is curated in partnership with Lupulus Brasserie -- one of the fastest growing and innovative breweries in Belgium.
The alco-bev startup generates revenue through the sale of its beverages and through experiential activities that include brewery tours.
The startup also produces 12 different varieties of Borécha. Priced at Rs 125 (in Goa), Borécha is made available through Amazon and also through notable high-end retail outlets across the country. It has a customer retention rate of 80 percent.
The craft beers are priced between Rs 90 and Rs 145. “The idea was to make good quality craft beer affordable,” Aditya says. Maka di is currently available at grocery stores, liquor shops, hotels, bars, and restaurants across Goa.
With only a month since its launch, the founders are expecting a turnover of Rs 25-30 crore in the next financial year with beer sales. “We are on track to see over 2,000 percent growth in revenue for our kombucha brand,” Aditya adds.
Maka di American Lager beer
According to a report by Craft Drinks India 2020, the Indian alcohol industry is the third largest in the world, valued at $35 billion. Statista states that the Indian Alcoholic Drinks market generated $49,029 million in 2020 alone, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.3 percent until 2023.
While beer brands like Bira, Simba, and White Owl have already made their mark in the Indian beer market, Maka di sees them as allies in expanding the craft beer market in India.
However, it differentiates itself from the rest in terms of its dedication to R&D, and claims to have the best technology and manufacturing processes for its products. Presently available in Goa, Maka di will soon be available in Pune, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad. Going ahead, Maka di will also be exported to other countries.
“Additionally, we plan to be highly focussed on R&D and innovation. We will be the first craft brewery in India to have our own pilot plant to facilitate research on unique ingredients for beer production,” Aditya says.
Latambarcem Brewers has installed a pilot brewery of 100-litre capacity to produce the new variants of beer in smaller batches to understand the taste and consumer’s adoption.