Bonding Over Beer

Prabhtej Singh Bhatia

Founder and CEO of India’s first home-grown, family-run craft beer, Simba Brewery, tell us about the idea behind the brand.
I was surprised to see such an enormous beer market that offered different styles and variants of beer when I was studying in the UK. It thrilled me to explore all the different variants. I felt that the culture was highly missing in India, which instantly fuelled my interest and gave birth to Simba in my head. Back home, the only difference between the beers were the labels. Since every beer was providing the same style and similar quality, beer consumption by people was reasonably low because they weren’t trying anything new; that acted as a foot-in-the-door moment for us. Even before I decided to start a brewery, I had my heart set on the name Simba. I loved the name already, and it fits perfectly with the image we wanted to create for our brand – authentic and something the millennials could resonate with.

What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to make your dream brand come into existence?
We face challenges every single day. India is a difficult country when it comes to alcohol because of the regulations. One of the biggest challenges was that we had about 20 products we felt would be great for the Indian market but choosing between which ones to launch was challenging. So, rather than launching 10 products that are good we instead decided to launch two brilliant products. Initially making that choice was extremely tough. The bigger companies had a lot of distribution control and that acted as another roadblock for us. We actually had to work really hard in breaking that and reaching the consumer with a product that was missing in their lives. 

Beer consumption has been declining in India in the last decade. Do you consider the beer market is under threat from other drinks, for instance, wine?
I completely disagree. I don’t feel the beer market is facing a downfall. Globally, yes, it is declining, however, in India, the beer market is ramping upwards. Even if there were a few dips here and there, overall the market has grown phenomenally in the last seven to eight years. Also, a couple of dips witnessed in a few quarters were beyond the control of the industry. They were either due to the highway ban or demonetisation, but definitely not due to lack of consumer demand. The beer market is not at all under any kind of threat from wine or any other poison. I think India is still a very nascent market. Globally, 70 per cent of the alcohol consumed is in the form of beer, but in India, that’s still 30 to 35 per cent, so there’s a long road ahead for us.

Home-brewing alcohol for commercial purposes is illegal in India. What is your take on this matter and how do you wish to change it in the future?
 Yes, home-brewing is illegal in India, but I am completely against that. It should become legal, and when I converse with any of the higher authorities, I make sure that I communicate my sentiments to them. Having said that, I am not encouraging commercial production going on in the name of home-brewing, but a litre of beer for consumption-purposes has never harmed anyone. People have become extremely creative and I believe in encouraging that. Just like people who enjoy making home-made dishes, cakes etc., there are other people who love brewing home-made beer and it’s very personal to them. We, as a country, should encourage and support that; it’s about respecting someone’s freedom and not curtailing it. It doesn’t just help the brewing industry but the nation as well. So, if cooking or baking at home is not illegal, or making your own clothes or shoes is not illegal, then why should home-brewing be?

Is there really much of a difference between a premium and non-premium beer? Or is it just marketing?

World of a difference. Marketing is only a tool that helps brands with their positioning but that can never let a non-premium beer overpower a good premium beer. 

What advice would you like to give to entrepreneurs who are new in the beer brewing industry?
The advice I’d like to give new entrepreneurs is very simple, ‘Just Start’, nothing else. Wherever you are and whatever it is, if you are passionate about your product, it’ll work out. If not, at least you won’t regret not trying. Call up people for help and never shy away from asking questions, and learning from other people’s experience. Even if you get five responses, you have a very good start.

Finally, what’s your favourite beer, and, if you don’t drink beer, what’s your choice of poison?
I love Simba Stout hands down. But outside of that, I love BrewDog. I think it’s a mind-blowing beer that has changed my perception about beer big time. At other times, I prefer sipping my favourite Silver Moon green tea.

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