International Beer Day: 5 popular and upcoming Indian craft beer brands competing with Kingfisher, Haywards, Knockout, Carlsberg
In India, beer has been traditionally brewed from rice or millet for thousands of years. At present, popular beer brands Kingfisher, Haywards, Knockout, Carlsberg, and Tuborg dominate India’s beer market. Beer with higher alcohol content, such as Kingfisher Strong (eight percent alcohol), sell the most.
Craft beer, usually made by small local breweries, has been rising in popularity for over a decade in India’s metro cities. Due to the extra focus on experimentation, unique flavours, and quality, craft beer is increasingly being bottled and retailed across India.
With major brands vying to retain their dominance and new craft beer brands seeking to capture more of the market, the Indian beer sector is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.9 percent between 2019-2025, according to a Research and Markets report.
This International Beer Day, SMBStory lists five popular craft beer brands making a name for themselves.
In 2015, Ankur Jain, Founder and CEO of craft beer company B9 Beverages and its flagship brand Bira, realised that the urban millennials needed beer that was different, and those available in the market weren’t close to satisfying them.
Bira and its team figured out that urban consumers prefer lighter beers, and they started their operations with mild beers - branded Bira Blonde and Bira White. The decision to sell beer with low bitterness worked wonders, and the locally crafted beer won fan following in a relatively short time.
Two years after its inception, it followed in the footsteps of its larger rivals and launched a strong variant, Bira Strong. Initially, Bira imported beer from Belgium and bottled it in India. This caused a supply crunch.
Says Ankur, “We needed to start brewing in India as the idea was to build a global brand out of India. We had to build something quickly. We had already started brewing the beer and we soon set up a brewery in Indore and later in Nagpur.”
Bira got over the supply crunch in no time, and went on to sell three million cases during 2016-17. Today, the popular Bira 91 consists of a team of over 500 people and has presence in ten countries and over 400 cities. So far, it has received over $130 million in funding across several funding rounds since its launch.
White Owl Brewery, started in Mumbai in 2013 by Harvard Business School graduate Javed Murad, is a rising brand looking to make its mark in the burgeoning craft beer market. One of the first licensed microbreweries in Mumbai, White Owl has shed the ‘micro’ tag, and in August 2019, claimed sales of 20,000 cases of beer a month (amounting to over 57 lakh pints of beer in one year, at 24 bottles per case.)
Javed believes that the use of the best ingredients and equipment along with observing natural fermentation and aging practices separates the brand’s premium craft beer from the lower-cost and mass-produced beers that dominate the market.
To package White Owl’s craft beer in bottles and cans, Javed signed up with a contract manufacturing partner in Raisen district in Madhya Pradesh, outside Bhopal.
“The aim was to make good craft beer and bring new flavours and experiences to beer drinkers across the country,” Javed says.
He decided to import grain from Belgium and Germany for the beer as he felt the local produce, although improving, was not up to the mark. ‘Neutered’ water and imported grain are used alongside stainless-steel and food-grade equipment in an industry-standard method of processing.
White Owl follows this manufacturing process to make brews such as Spark (Belgian wit), Diablo (Irish Red Ale), Ace (Apple Cider Ale), Spike (German Weizenbock), etc.
Simba is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Prabhtej Singh Bhatia, who set up the brewery in Durg, Chhattisgarh. He has also founded Kite, a fintech startup, and acquired a fishery.
“Simba is the result of rigorous research on supreme quality beer. Our craft beer undergoes the challenging process of using fresh water from a nearby river. Other beer companies usually use underground water,” says Prabhtej Singh Bhatia, Founder and CEO, Simba Brewery.
When Simba was set up in 2015, it was the only craft brewery in India whose beer was made for sale across markets. “We have spent months searching for the finest malts and hops, creating experimental batches to perfect the flavour, and throw out all conventional wisdom. Simba also uses real orange peels from the farms in Europe along with roasted barley and oats to get the rich flavours in our Simba Wit beer. Further, our Stout has a hint of coffee and dark chocolate,” Prabhtej adds.
Despite its expansion to numerous metro cities, Simba stays true to craft beer production by making beer in small batches instead of producing it in bulk.
And beer lovers are showing their love for the brand. Under Prabhtej’s leadership, the business grew 150 percent in 2017-18. He estimated a turnover of Rs 150 crore in 2019 - a growth of 100 percent from the previous financial year.
Avneet Singh founded Medusa Beverages in April 2017 and began its operations in January 2018. After launching in Delhi, Medusa Beverages is now present in Punjab, UP, and Chhattisgarh.
“In the first year, we sold three lakh cases in Delhi. No brand in the past 20 years has achieved this feat in Delhi, and we are now looking for a bigger number this year. Also, we have the second highest canned beer sales in the Delhi market,” he claims.
While the brand made a turnover of Rs 70 crore in 2018, it clocked Rs 150 crore in 2019 clearly showcasing that there was a huge demand for craft beer across the country.
The Medusa team works on contract or lease manufacturing. Avneet says they have a unit on lease and their brewery is based out of Punjab. “As of now, we are not planning to set up any brewery of our own. I believe it’s better to invest crores in brand development rather than investing in a brewery,” says Avneet.
The team has its own formula to make the beer. Avneet says they have their in-house team of brew masters who researched for almost a year and came up with the recipe. “Our beer is a combination of the best barley malt and imported hops from Germany,” says Avneet.
Home-grown breweries are gradually proving their mettle in the Indian beer market. One of them is Kimaya Himalayan Beverages LLP, which has launched two beer brands - Bee Young and Yavira. The company was founded by Abhinav Jindal with an initial investment of Rs 15 crore.
While the operations of the company started in 2018, the two brands were launched in September 2019. The company has managed to clock a turnover of Rs 25 crore since its inception.
Abhinav says, “Around 90 percent of the people drink strong lagers and this was something nobody was addressing. It prompted us to create the first-ever crafted strong beer in the country - Bee Young.” The second brand, Yavira has a deeper Indian connection. It means beer in Sanskrit. Yav means malted barley.
The ingredients that go into making beer are malted barley, hops, rice, and water. Barley comes from Argentina which is malted and then supplied to the company.
The bootstrapped company claims it is present in 80 percent of the beer market in India. It has approximately 2,000 touch points in three states - Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. The brand also has a strong presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
Edited by Javed Gaihlot