With plans to launch 100 bars in India over the next decade, MCA examines how a craft beer boom, a nascent brewpub culture and young and growing middle class have led the beer rebels to bet big on the vast territory

Multinational craft brewer and bar operator BrewDog has announced plans to open 100 bars in India in the next decade, deeming the country its most important international market in the medium term.

Founder and CEO James Watt cites the fledgling Indian craft beer market and its opportunities for growth. Indeed, BrewDog’s three bars in India – two flagship sites in Mumbai and one just outside of New Delhi – have been well received as the country’s large young, middle class demographic look to experiment and move away from tried-and-true favourites like Kingfisher.

The operator has announced plans to expand further North with partner Ace Hospitality, with sites in Amritsar and Chandigarh, two major cities in Punjab, slated to open in Q1 this year. It also plans to introduce its beer and spirit range to wholesale channels later this year.

Last autumn, BrewDog India CEO Karan Jain revealed plans to expand further South in Goa and Bangalore, claiming a wide-ranging offer built on an extensive portfolio of beer gave it an edge over local competitors.

The potential riches to be found in the subcontinent will not have escaped the attention of the craft beer company - and they certainly aren’t the first Scottish merchants to eye a fortune in the country. The Caledonian connection to India is as old as the union itself, with Scottish gentry gaining access to the East India Company in 1707, and eventually becoming the dominant force in the trading, colonising company.

BrewDog’s directors will be keenly aware India’s beer market is expected to grow annually by 10.08%, with revenue forecast to total $15.92bn in 2023. Also worth noting is that 26% of spend and 18% of volume consumption in the beer segment is forecast to be out-of-home consumption by 2025, with a thriving hospitality sector that has recovered well post-pandemic. Meanwhile India’s 1.4bn population has increasing spending power, the proportion classified as middle class set to rise from 14% in 2004-05 to 31% in 2021-22.

While craft beer still comprises a small proportion of the market, it has the distinction of being its fastest growing segment. Local brewers like Effingut and White Owl have spearheaded the still niche but growing market, drawing consumers in with a combination of quirky flavour profiles, differentiated food offers, and tried and tested methods like the weekly pub quiz.

BrewDog has taken note, with a well localised menu featuring its ‘world famous wings,’ but with marinades including tandoor and makhani plus plenty of India’s favourite bar snacks like paneer tikka and popcorn chicken. More global favourites, including wood fired pizza and truffle fries, create differentiation, while more than 20 craft beers on tap offering a wealth of choice uncommon among independent brewers.

The 4,500 sq ft flagship taproom in Mumbai’s Kamala Mills – an old textile mill turned chic commercial complex – is all the rage among students and young professionals, tempted not only by offers like Wing Wednesdays but primarily the draw of a globalised, premium offer. Craft beer also happens to pair well with Indian food. UK-born concepts like Bundobust in Leeds and Manchester and The Indian Brewery in Birmingham have perfected this flavour match, opening taprooms and restaurants under one roof.

While BrewDog’s reputation in the UK has been marred by allegations of a toxic work culture in recent years, this negative press is little known in India. Better understood is its risqué marketing and a reputation for an edgy, stripped back aesthetic - much like the cool perception it once enjoyed as an irreverent upstart in the UK.

With that in mind, BrewDog looks very well-placed to win over customers in India, where 65% of people are under 35, and who have a swelling thirst for internationally known, premium concepts. Local entrepreneurs have already laid the foundations for a flourishing independent brewpub culture inspired by the West, allowing BrewDog to begin building towards its ambitious plans.