Thanks to the recession and an acquired taste for craft beers, Ishaan Puri decided to set up a brewery of his own upon his return to India in 2010, following his time in America during the previous decade. The 30-year old, who learned the art of brewing at Brewlab in the UK, is the brain behind one of the country’s first home-brewed craft beers, White Rhino.
The company operates from its brewing facility in Malanpur, near Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region, and currently manufactures a Belgianstyle wheat beer and a Munich-style lager, with other beers (like an India Pale Ale) in the pipeline. Distributed only in Gurugram at the moment, the brand is set to expand across the country’s major cities in the near future. In conversation with us, the beer-preneur spoke about his pet project, the life of a young beer brewer and more.
Is life as the young owner of a beer brewery as cool as it sounds?
To be honest, it sounds a lot cooler than it is. It’s definitely a very challenging job, especially if you’re obsessed with quality in the way we are. We’re always looking at ways to improve and become more efficient at what we do. Both James Grastang, our head brewer, and I have a serious appetite for problem-solving, and that’s something we get an opportunity to do each and every day. I get to interact with a lot of very dedicated, passionate, creative and talented people, which is the cool part. At the end of the day, I can’t complain. I’m doing what I love, and the response from consumers, especially the discerning market that we cater to, makes it all worthwhile.
What motivated you to take up beer brewing?
I returned to India in 2009 and was appalled at the standard of beer being produced here. In all the years I’d been away, I didn’t think there had been any improvement. There were more brands, but essentially it was all just the same beer in different bottles. I had no idea how hard it was going to be at the time, but I wanted to make a positive contribution to the industry. So I went and studied brewing in the UK, and started working on building a small (but very modern) brewery in 2011. It wasn’t easy, and we only bottled our first beer in 2016.
Is there a cultural challenge in India when it comes to this industry?
Clearly there’s no cultural challenge as far as consumers are concerned. Alcohol is more accepted today in the metros than it has ever been. I remember when I was in school, you didn’t have the kind of nightlife you have today, and we definitely didn’t have even a fraction of the variety in alcohol that we have today. The industry has grown because there has been a demand for it.
What are the other challenges that you’ve faced in your journey so far?
It’s challenging to do business in India, in general. Everything from importing raw material to logistics to licensing to substandard infrastructure across the board makes life hard. Things that would take months in many countries actually take years over here. Having said that, it has made us very resilient. We’ve all been conditioned to accept the challenges and just deal with them, even if it means we have to work twice as hard.
What sets your product apart?
We source very high quality ingredients from around the globe and brew beer to an international standard at our very own facility in India. Our brewing philosophy is all about taking no shortcuts, and while it is a costly approach, it allows us to brew beer that is of a higher standard than any other domestic brand in the market. White Rhino is perhaps the only bottled beer in the market that does not use preservatives, stabilizers, enzymes, foam enhancers and clarifying agents to brew beer faster and cheaper. We realize that great beer takes time to mature (there is no substitute for this) and we do things the right way, which is often the hard way. It is an approach we are very proud of.
What lies ahead?
A lot of hard work! We’ve achieved a lot in a very short span of time, but transitioning from a popular new regional brand to a successful national brand takes time and careful planning. We want to grow while maintaining the quality that we are known for. So the plan is to expand one city at a time and make sure we continue to innovate, improve and stay true to our philosophy.