Cheers to craft beer

A host of brewpubs have sprung up offering craft beer. Can these microbreweries slug it out in the market?

Photographs by RA Chandroo

Talk to Padmal Kolongahapitiya about the good things in life and his eyes light up immediately; the conversation gets positively heady when we discuss refreshing beers. Having worked in Japan and his native Sri Lanka in the past, Kolongahapitiya has been based in Bengaluru since November 2011 in his role as head brewmaster for The Biere Club, a well-known name in Bengaluru’s craft beer business. Produced in small quantities, craft beers are available at microbreweries across the world, with 15 having popped up in Bengaluru alone in the past four years.

“The Indian palate generally tends towards sweeter flavours. It is hard for a bitter beer to make a mark here, unlike Japan, where people prefer bitter brews,” he says. In the summer of 2012, this consumer insight was put to good use by Kolongahapitiya and his bosses. Coinciding with the mango season, The Biere Club ordered 60 kg of the Alphonso variant and created a mango variant of its signature brews, which people just lapped up. “We served nearly 1,500 litres during the season. It was a bit unexpected,” Kolongahapitiya adds.

But the craft beer action is not restricted to Bengaluru alone. Gurgaon, where the craft beer story really began, today boasts of about 12 microbreweries, with only two pubs having debuted in Mumbai; neighbour Pune has another six in operation. It is estimated that the domestic microbreweries industry is worth anywhere between ₹75 crore-100 crore today and is growing at upwards of 25%.

That may, however, pale in comparison with the ₹3,500-crore bottled beer market, which is growing at 15% and is dominated by brands such as Kingfisher, Haywards, Knock Out, Tuborg and Carlsberg. Those in the microbreweries business insist that quality is a key differentiator, and the well-travelled Indian, who now has a better under

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