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Get ready for a tap dance of the fizzy kind: Chennai may soon have its first microbrewery



Chennai, it may finally be time to get your hops up, with sources in the food and beverage industry saying the city is likely to get its first microbrewery in a few months. “We’ve heard it will be soon,” says Sushil Kumar Eashwaran, technical director of the Chennaibased Shivsu Canadian Clear International Ltd, which has tied up with Prodeb Brewery from Belgium to tap the craft beer market in India. “Let’s just say we are more than ready for when it happens.”

Eashwaran ought to know. With Prodeb he has established more than 200 largescale breweries and distilleries over four decades, 30 microbreweries worldwide and 20 in India, with 60 more being set up this year. “People head out to Bengaluru on weekends just to check out the latest microbreweries. Chennai needs to cash in on the trend,” he says.

Though Kirlosh Kumar, MD of the state governmentrun Tasmac, which regulates wholesale and retail vending of alcoholic beverages in TN, says he cannot comment as no permits have been given to open microbreweries in the state, the buzz in the food and beverage industry is that a couple of restaurateurs are working aggressively towards popping the cork on the craft beer market.

A city-based alcohol beverage consultant, on condition of anonymity, says discussions regarding microbreweries have taken place at the policy level. “The last big policy change came with the Tamil Nadu Wine (Manufacture) Rules, 2006. So the government does have a history of moving slowly,” he says, adding the revenue generation in craft beer has caught the attention of officials in the excise department.

When it comes to TN, there are other hiccups as well. Since alcoholic beverages are routed through Tasmac, one first needs to work out the supply chain for craft beer. “Every batch of beer brewed needs to be sent to the excise department laboratory to check whether it is fit to be consumed, which may be difficult in the case of artisanal beer, which is crafted in small quantities,” he says, adding that there are other technicalities as well regarding infrastructure. For instance, in Karnataka the law states that for safety reasons a minimum of 10,000 sqft of space is needed to establish a microbrewery.

The rest of India is frothing at the mouth. Rahul Singh, president of the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), says, “It took 60 years to establish 100 commercial breweries in India. In the last six years the country has seen 100 microbreweries,” says Singh, also the founder of The Beer Café chain, which serves craft beers from around the world. NRAI data reports that the alco-beverage market of 2017 was ₹2.6 lakh crore of which beer holds ₹51,000 crore, with India consuming 2.9 billion litres of beer a year, making it the largest beer consumer in the world.

India is mirroring the global growth trend, says Singh. In the US, five microbreweries open every day, while in India a new brand hit the market every week in 2017, due to increasing affluence, a tropical climate that favours beer drinking and millennials showing a preference for artisanal beer. “While the beer market is showing a growth of 11%, the craft beer market is showing a growth of 40%,” he says.

Mumbai-based microbrewery consultant Francis Vijayarangam is one of those being signed on to create the brewing technology curriculum in Chennai. He says one of the first steps is to look beyond barley as a source ingredient. “Beer can be made from fruit, other cereals, corn and wheat,” says Vijayarangam. “Now, craft beer benefits only the barley farmers in the north, but in TN we have fantastic craft beer potential in sorghum and millet,” says Vijayarangam, explaining that Heineken began using sorghum in 1989 to craft local Nigerian beer, and in 2014, released its first 100% sorghum beer, employing over 100,000 farming families.

The market growth has begun luring international brewmasters to the country, like Martin Bernard, a 36-year old Canadian who made India his home five years ago to train brewers. He is now working on setting up a 68,000sq ft microbrewery in Bengaluru this year, touted to be among the largest in Asia. “I have six microbreweries under my supervision and have trained 20 people,” says Bernard.

Eashwaran is also in talks with a leading university in Chennai about a course on brewing technology set to kick off this academic year, where Bernard has been recruited to teach. “India needs at least 500 brewmasters within the year. Through the course, we plan to churn out 75 brewmasters every six months,” he adds.


PINT TO PINT: (Above) Indian artisanal beer market is showing a 40% growth rate; Sushil Kumar Eashwaran’s firm in Chennai supplies craft beer equipment to microbreweries across India and the globe


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