Patiala peg and chicken tikka will never get old, but there is so much more to the quintessential North than these stereotypes. There is also a generation of young and budding entrepreneurs, a thriving startup culture, and a growing demand for some freshly brewed goodness that, without a doubt, beats all the generic Punjabi tropes.
Arundeep Singla, with his Masters in Finance and a career in the burgeoning beer industry of India, is definitely checking all the unconventional boxes.
Born in Sunam, in the Sangrur district of Punjab, the 34-year-old did not know much about entrepreneurial life while growing up. His family was religiously into services – his father a retired professor and mother, a homemaker – and the idea of giving the finance career a miss and starting up on his own was mostly a distant thought.
“My family never imagined that I would tread the entrepreneurial path, that too with no mentors and in one of the most regulated industries of India, the Big Alcohol,” he tells YS Weekender
Arundeep’s tryst with the beverage industry – more specifically, the brew pub culture – happened in Australia. While still a student at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, he was introduced to the local breweries and the pub culture Down Under, an experience that he says, left a deep impact on him.
“I was impressed with the brew pub culture in Australia,” he says, adding, “Punjab and the neighbouring states did not have a concept of a brew-pub.”
At the time, breweries and craft beers had already traced their way to the southern part of the country. Bengaluru, had by then, started grabbing eyeballs, with major brands setting up their distilleries in the city.
Arundeep, inspired by the sum total of all his experiences, wanted to take this trend up North. So, after a brief stint in the traditional spirits industry, he launched The Brew Estate in 2016, which he claims is the first microbrewery in Chandigarh.
Prior to this enterprise, he had already dabbled in the liquor market with his Rock & Storm distilleries, which he launched in 2011 with a portfolio of IMFL spirits. “Today, Rock & Storm has 14 brands available across the North and select markets in the East,” Arundeep says.
The Millennial factor and an unprecedented growth
“The concept of craft beer paired with great food and good music is the perfect recipe for any go-to-place with family and friends,” says Arundeep.
With this philosophy at the heart of the venture, The Brew Estate has been grown exponentially since its launch. Starting with the first outlet in 2016, the chain of microbreweries has expanded to seven outlets (and counting) within a span of just three years.
Says Arundeep, “Currently, there are several single or at best double outlet brew pub brands. This trend is not surprising as the initial capital investment for equipment and imported ingredients is high and needs to be offset by high footfalls from day one of the launch.”
“Most players are regional and are testing the waters before launching multiple outlets across India,” he adds.
Currently, the beer industry at large is witnessing an upward curve. With factors like urbanisation and increase in the number of female consumers and millennials driving the consuming pattern, it is anticipated that over the period of 2016-2024, the beer market will double in size, as per a Goldstein research report.
Not only is this good news for India’s microbrewery market, which is at a rather nascent stage right now, but also an indicator of the driving force behind this trend: the younger demographic. Younger people, with their changing taste and demand better and more versatile flavours to cater to their palates.
“Our learning curve was steep albeit a short one in the contiguous states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal,” Arundeep recalls. The challenges he had to face were mostly on the talent front – attrition being a widely-recognised hurdle in this industry – and hence the solution to this issue was also centred around the staff. “We invest heavily in our people to ensure they know their craft and engage with the consumers,” the brew pub owner adds.
Arundeep’s pride is unmistakable when he turns the conversation around The Brew Estate’s success story. “When we launched our first outlet in Chandigarh, it was an instant hit,” he says, “From politicians to bureaucrats and celebrities, I was flooded with messages to reserve a table for their special occasions or guests.”
Riding high on the Craft Beer popularity
Thanks to the sudden spurt of microbreweries and the money, time, and effort invested in perfecting the brew, craft beers are now the new normal. People love their brew fresh, locally-made, and infused with a hint of regional flavours.
“Consumers in this region prefer seasonal flavour variations for their craft beer that is not too bitter, unlike consumers in markets like Bangalore,” explains Arundeep, whose microbrewery chain was the first premium chain in the neigbouring cities of Patiala, Panchkula, and Shimla.
The ‘first-ever’ factor played an important role here. For The Brew Estate, it meant a kickstart in an industry that is fairly young. And in the process an unprecedented growth.
“We have closed FY 19 at $6 million revenue with 100% growth year on year,” he says. “This trend is likely to continue for the next 5-6 years as brew pubs are a nascent industry and the opportunity for expansion is imminent.”
The wind, as they say, is in his favour and Arundeep has every intention of making the best of it. He has lofty plans for The Brew Estate, and from seven outlets at the moment he plans to take the brand to 30 outlets in the next three years in India. He also plans to go global, with a presence in both Canada and the UK.
It’s not something that can be accomplished in a day, and Arundeep is well aware of the reality. With eyes on the prize, he admits, “There are palate variations, even as we move from the North to the South, or anywhere else in the country.”
But we are up for the challenge, he asserts.