A conversation with the Co-Founder and the Brewmaster of The Biere Club, a popular craft brewery in Bangalore.
Author: Ganesh Vancheeswaran
Along with a few other establishments, The Biere Club has been at the forefront of the craft beer movement in India. It is one of the oldest brewpubs (craft brewery-cum-pub) in the city of Bangalore, and indeed, in all of India. Here, I chat with Arvind Raju, Co-Founder of The Biere Club and Rohit Parwani, the Brewmaster.
Ganesh: Arvind, what was your work background before you set up The Biere Club? What about your co-founder?
Arvind Raju: I have a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management from Christ University, Bangalore and a Masters in Hospitality Management from Sheffield University, UK. I then worked for a brief time in a hotel in the UK before coming back to India to start something different in the hospitality industry.
On returning to India, I took on a few commercial real estate development projects that we continue to do even today. We set up The Biere Club in 2011.
Meenakshi Sagiraju, my sister, is my Co-founder. In fact, this brewpub is her brainchild. She has done her Bachelors in Commerce from Bangalore University and MBA from Symbiosis University. After that, she was in the corporate world for 10 years before we started working on launching this brewpub.
Ganesh: How and when did the idea of launching a craft brewery come to you? Was the pub also conceived from Day 1 or did that come later?
Arvind: Coming from a family that has been in the real estate and hospitality businesses for about 3 decades, we always wanted to do something different; not just start any other restaurant or night club. We wanted to bring in a new concept altogether.
It was in the year 2007-08 that we thought about starting a brewpub. There were no brewpubs at all in the country at that time; not even a policy to start one. We worked closely with the Karnataka state government to frame a microbrewery policy.
Ganesh: Your reading of the opportunity in Bangalore for a brewpub at that time? Why did you think a craft brewery would be a good idea?
Arvind: Bangalore was and is the pub capital of India. And since we were Bangaloreans with established businesses here, it was easier for us to start a brewpub.
Ganesh: In the run-up to the launch & after that, did you have any apprehensions or anxiety about the brewpub?
Arvind: From the time we conceptualised The Biere Club, we were sure it would work. And as a team, we always believe in giving the best product to our customers. Our belief has been that if your product is good, customers will definitely appreciate it.
Ganesh: Where did the brewing technology and equipment come from? Who helped you during this process?
Arvind: We got our equipment from Budapest (Hungary). We did our research about different micro-brewery equipment manufacturers around the world, as there were none in India at that point of time. After carefully studying different manufacturers, we finalised with a company from Hungry.
Ganesh: How did the market receive your brewpub in the first few months?
Arvind: People loved our place, and they continue to love us.
Ganesh: What has been your approach to beer and brewing? What are the hallmarks of your beers?
Arvind: We always experiment a lot when it comes to beer and food. We have brewed more than 400 types of beer. We were the first to make a mango beer, a ragi beer and a coffee- flavoured Stout. We carefully pair our beers with our food and bring a totally new experience to our customers.
Ganesh: What’s the The Biere Club ethos: not just the beer, but the brand itself?
Arvind: The Biere Club has always been a place for everyone of legal drinking age and above. It’s a casual space where customers can walk-in with their shorts and slippers. You don’t have to get dressed up.
Back in 2010-11, most of the restaurants and bars in Bangalore either had a cover charge or an entry fee. Or, they’d not allow the entry of singles. We wanted to change this. We said it must be a place for everyone. We have regulars who come in at least 3 to 4 times a week.
Ganesh: Tell me a little about The Biere Club’s connections/interactions with other players in the hospitality industry, including other breweries. Any way in which you collaborate?
Arvind: We are part of the Craft Brewers Association of India. Many brewpubs are a part of it. We regularly interact with each other and have done a few collaborations.
Ganesh: How has Bangalore’s craft beer scene evolved in the past few years?
Arvind: We started our brewpub on May 20, 2011. We were the only brewpub in town at that point of time. But today, I think there are about 65 brewpubs in Bangalore.
Ganesh: Did you hit a temporary low phase when Bangalore was flooded with craft breweries? How have you managed to bounce back and stay strong?
Arvind: We never faced any problem. We have our regular customers, and have been innovative in coming up with ideas to bring customers back to our property. It’s going to be 10 years for us, now. I have no complaints.
Ganesh: Tell me a bit about your staff, and about how you leverage in-house talent. How do you train people to bring out their best?
Arvind: We believe in multi-tasking, and constantly train our staff in all areas. We have a number of programs to keep them motivated. We have a monthly coffee talk with them, where each and every staff member is given a chance to speak and come up with ideas to improve our customers’ experience.
Ganesh: Your customer loyalty program (if you have one), and any other interesting initiatives involving customers?
Arvind: We have signed up with external partners to manage our loyalty programs. We do a lot of communication on social media, where we engage our customers.
Ganesh: Any interesting/memorable incident involving customers at the pub?
Arvind: Once, a couple got married right here, at the brewpub.
Ganesh: What lies ahead for The Biere Club?
Arvind: We will continue to be innovative. Our tagline says “Discover better”. So we, as a team, keep coming up with ideas so that we give a better experience to our customers.
Ganesh: A word about your brewmasters down the years and their contribution to your brand?
Arvind: They are the lifeline of any brewpub or microbrewery. Our brewmaster Rohit has been with us for a long time and he understands our brand. He comes up with some very interesting brews.
Chat with Rohit Parwani, Brewmaster
Ganesh: How many beers do you usually offer at any point of time?
Rohit: We usually have about 6 beers on tap at any point of time.
Ganesh: What’s been your approach to making beer? What’s special about The Biere Club’s beers?
Rohit: I like to make seasonals and experiment with their flavours. We were one of the first to make the ragi beer – in 2014 or 15. We have been making this beer twice a year, since then. It’s quite popular.
We were also probably the first ones to make a chilli lager in Bangalore. This was in 2013 or 2014. Over the years, we have made a strawberry beer, kafir lime beer, orange & thyme beer, Earl Grey beer and Lemongrass beer. Surprisingly, our customers have liked most of our seasonals. And so, we keep bringing out new types of beer.
Ganesh: When you experiment with beer recipes, how do you do that?
Rohit: When we want to make a new beer, we first try out the ingredients we have in mind by using them in small proportions to make cocktails. If these taste good, and after we fine-tune the proportions, we make a batch of beer. Each batch here is 1000 litres; so we have to be careful about getting our beer recipes right.
Ganesh: What qualities do you think attract people to The Biere Club?
Rohit: I think the fact that we have so many beer options brings people back. They know they’ll get a good variety here. They also know that they’ll probably have a new beer or two every time they visit here, unlike in many other places.
Ganesh: What’s the vibe of this place?
Rohit: This place allows you to be. You can choose from the 3 levels, according to your preference. Our vibes are a little calmer than those of some other pubs. People can hold conversations without being drowned out by the music. And most of our customers are above the age of 30.
Ganesh: Have you noticed any change in the beer preferences of the Bangalore crowd?
Rohit: Well, while the wheat beers continue to be the crowd favourite, more people than before are asking for IPAs and Stouts. The palate is expanding overall, though slowly.
Pictures: Ganesh Vancheeswaran