|Independence Brewing Co. brand new 1,000L brewhouse|
My first weekend in India can be conveniently summed up into an alliteration, though fortunately there is more to it than that. I landed in Mumbai on a Friday morning expecting to immediately experience the crazy India everybody had been telling me about as soon as I walk out of customs. You know the idea; I pictured hundreds of people waiting on other hundreds of passengers walking out with me, being solicited by numerous taxi drivers or tourist touts, etc. Instead, the brand new T2 International terminal opened about 6 months ago was close to empty. My good friends Sangita and Richard came to pick me up at the airport and we were off to Pune where they live, a fast growing business and tech hub a few hours from Mumbai.
On the Saturday they asked me what I wanted to do and I quickly remembered reading up about the craft beer revolution coming to India with a few different microbreweries and brewpubs, one of which had recently opened in Pune, Independence Brewing Company. I particularly remembered the photos looked amazing and they feature Greg Koch from Stone Brewing as a Chief Advisor and co-founder, and whether you like Stone or not you can deny he’s a pretty big deal for beer geeks.
The place looks as stunning in real life as in on the photos, really big bar and restaurant area, large brewery section with a gleaming new 1,000L brewhouse and 9 fermentation tanks imported from the US, impressive material!
Now for the interesting part: they have been open for over 6 months and haven’t brewed a single drop of beer yet. They don’t have the license to brew alcohol yet, they’ve apparently been stuck with administrative issues, and according to what I’ve heard that may also mean someone is waiting for, or negotiating a baksheesh – or as Darshan Jariwala’s character Vivek in Million Dollar Arm says “it’s not a bribe, we just bypass the system” (I watched it on the plane over, cute film). From a few other conversations I’ve had, this seems to be a regular feature for anyone trying to build a new business venture in India, and the same reasons Adi from the late Jungle Beer told me he opened in Singapore rather than India.
We still had a lovely evening, the food was delicious and we sampled some nice draft beer from Gateway Brewery in Mumbai. According to what the guys said at IBC, they should be ready to start brewing at the end of September, I wish them all the best!
On Sunday we were invited to the opening of a new bar in Pune, a new business launched by the brother of Bollywood superstar and Miss World 2000, Priyanka Chopra. I of course had no idea who my friend Sangita was talking about and had to look Priyanka up on Wikipedia. I find it always really interesting to wake up to the fact that a country of 1.2 Billion people has a whole huge set of interests and media fascinations I barely know anything about.
At first I thought the evening wasn’t really my kind of thing, a bit too elite, and then started getting interested for the same reason, as a pretty awesome opportunity to mingle with Pune’s high and mighty – plus free drinks! I ended up having a lot of fun, danced, and joined in the crowd of raving fans taking pictures when Priyanka showed up. By the end of the evening it was getting a little decadent, bartenders putting the whole bar on fire, serving spirits poured directly from the bottles to people's mouths.
It’s also interesting to me as I’m not a huge fan of any celebrities; I was also hoping to learn something by joining in. I participated in a game she launched to give out gifts: this white guy here jumped the highest and got a gift from Priyanka herself. I’m not sure I understand any more the fan phenomenon after the experience, though I knew the contents of the gift were meaningless, what really mattered is I had one from Priyanka and the look on people’s faces because of it was impressive.
I also just read this really interesting piece about Bollywood fans turning on to a journalist, which sheds a little more light on the phenomenon. I think they’re pretty crazy; of course nothing wrong with loving a genre, an artist, a movie, whatever – but once the amount of significance invested in it becomes fanaticism, it also becomes scary.