A businessman and an industrialist, Vir Kotak, Joint Managing Director, JM Baxi group, is a man of many hats. Vir’s beer credentials start with Tsingtao and Schneider Weisse—he works on importing both to India. Alex Barlow, the UK brewmaster helped him develop Happy and other beers under the Thirsty super brand. Vir likes the ideas of alcohol not as something to get drunk on, but for the taste profiles and has always envisioned becoming a very big industrialist and has independently spearheaded from conception to execution of many new ventures for JM Baxi group and Bliq Trading. Excerpts from the interview:
What’s the whole idea behind launching a fine alcoholic beverage in India?
At Thirsty, we love high quality which we felt that was something missing in the beer space in India - high quality, authentic, legit, ingredient focussed, output focussed beer. Hence we are here. We make our beer for people who thankfully, still believe in this world - the enigmatic, striking, charming and beautiful. Our beers are made using the finest ingredients in the way beer needs to be made - with passion.
What are the different types of beers that you manufacture?
Two variants are being manufactured and bottled in Bosnia HAPPY by Thirsty, which is a Lager (in a 500 ml can, pints expected soon) and Thirsty SIMONA, which is a Hefeweizen Beer (in a 330 ml pint). We have five variants on tap at our microbrewery in Lower Parel, Mumbai Thirsty Tom The Thresher -Chocolate Stout, Thirsty Lennox - New England IPA, Thirsty Miss Sweet Lips - Apple Cider, Thirsty Sexy Pig - Belgium Wit, Thirsty Ninja - Kolsch Ale.
With HAPPY and SIMONA on tap as well, it makes a total of seven variants on tap.
Are you also importing them from global markets?
At our micro-brewery in Mumbai, we make few beers. We also produce at our operations in Europe, our lager Happy by Thirsty and our delectable Hefeweissen, ThirstyandSimona.
What are the legal hurdles getting them here in India?
India has a decentralised excise policy so we need to work locally in each state with different methods of working which increases operational costs and overheads. But India is a large nascent market with tremendous potential and we believe it is only just getting started.
Talk us through your own Simona and Happy Thirsty Beers. How are they different from others in the segment?
Happy is a can of classic central European lager by Thirsty, specifically brewed to be uplifting, balanced and refreshing. The predominant hop, Herkules gives it a peppery or spicy bitterness with floral and citrus notes, as well as a pleasant hoppy aroma. It is the first brand launched under the umbrella of Thirsty Beers. It is brewed and bottled under license by Banjalucka Pivara AD, Slatinska 8 (a Bosnian brewing company based in Banja Luka, Bosnia, and Herzegovina) and is available in 500ML cans.
Whereas, SIMONA is the second brand launched under the umbrella of Thirsty Beer. It is also brewed and bottled under license by Banjalucka Pivara AD, Slatinska 8 (a Bosnian brewing company based in Banja Luka, Bosnia, and Herzegovina) and is available in 330 ML pints. Launched in December 2017 it is available in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, and Goa. This is a rich wheat beer, made in the traditional style of German brewing with live unfiltered yeast, which gives it a fresh and enhanced taste in every pint.
What is your market presence?
We are available in Delhi, Bengaluru, Goa, and Mumbai.
Are you also supplying to restaurants and hotels?
Yes, we are supplying to a few of them.
How about pricing, keeping in mind the target audience?
We believe that there isn’t a beer of the quality of our products, whether in cans, bottles or kegs sold at as competitive a price point as what we sell our products for. Mass-market beers use commercial ingredients, shorter brew cycles and add adjuncts which severely dilute the taste of the beer. We use high-quality malt and hops only and never compromise on the brewing process. Thirsty Simona, for example, is made in the traditional German style of brewing a wheat beer and it contains unfiltered live yeast, which continues to enhance the taste of the beer right till you drink it.
How can customers pair both the beers rightly with food?
At Thirsty Beers, we love our beer, and we sure love our food. Like wine pairing, beer pairing is an art. There are rules which you can follow but you can also break with equal aplomb. We like to pair our crisp lager, Happy by Thirsty with Garlic Pepper Shrimp, Lamb Satay, a Chipotle Veggie Burrito or even your favorite dhaba Chicken Tikka. Thirsty Simona, our decadently tasty and rich Hefeweissen pairs very well with Chorizo, a Truffle Gouda, Lemon Crab Spaghetti or a Herbed Chicken Breast. Be innovative and have fun!
Of course, there is and that’s always a good thing - we need a dynamic scene in a market - that’s what pushes us all to produce something better always.
What is the plan for going forward?
The response to our first two imported products has been very encouraging. We will continue to increase the width of distribution in our current markets - Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Noida and Goa and bring on board more restaurants, hotels, bars, and shops as our pouring partners. We will soon start selling our products in exciting new markets - Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Pune. After the phenomenal reception of the 500ml cans, we will launch Happy by Thirsty in 330ml bottles with the same fun, edgy branding. At our micro-brewery in Mumbai, we will officially launch all our on-tap variants. And most excitingly, we will see the opening of our flagship bar in Mumbai! Watch this space!