Rahul Mehra | 29
Category: Food & Hospitality
Sometime in early 2011, Rahul Mehra, then posted in the Delhi office of TJUK Trade Networks, a food distribution company, was helping his American neighbour relocate to the US. In her luggage was a box labelled ‘Make Your Own Beer’. Intrigued, he wanted her home brewing kit. She willingly obliged. Within a week, he drank his homebrew, pulled out a sheaf of paper and wrote his resignation letter. “I knew this is what I wanted to do,” says Mehra, 29, co-founder and partner of the Mumbai-based Gateway Brewing Company.
That is also where the problems began. First, his mum flipped. “When I told her I wanted to start a brewery, she thought I had lost it,” he chuckles. (It later transpired that this was the least of his worries.) Mehra trawled through pages of Google search to find another person with a similar interest. That’s how Navin Mittal, who runs the Indian Beer Geek blog, came on board. So did Krishna Naik, an IT executive who had interned at Sydney’s brewpubs.
The three put their heads together, pooled in their finances and drew up a business plan to set up a microbrewery. And then came problem #2. In its fine print, the Maharashtra alcohol policy outlawed microbreweries. In fact, for the longest time, Maharashtra did not even allow a brewpub—restaurants that brew beer on their premises.
That changed thanks to Suketu Talekar and Oliver Schauf of Doolally in Pune. Even so, if you wanted to brew your own beer, package it and distribute it outside the four walls of your restaurant, the law stipulated you produce a minimum of 50 lakh litres. “That put you in competition with the big boys who sold lagers of the lowest common denominator in the country. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to make artisanal beers in lesser quantities—handcrafted in small batches—and served to niche drinkers,” says Mehra. Setting up a pub was also not an option. “I didn’t have the temperament to run restaurants,” says Mehra, a graduate of the Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad.
The only way out was perhaps the toughest: To push for a law change. Mehra and his partners did just that. In shorts and chappals, they headed for Mantralaya and spent several days there (“we had no job and ample time”) before a minister finally agreed to meet them. They presented research reports about how the alcohol industry was functioning across the world and sought 14 amendments to the current liquor policy in the state.
Their proposals went back and forth for two years before the government, in December 2013, agreed to vet 11 amendments that Mehra & Co had proposed. “What he’s done is pioneering for the craft beer industry. He’s opened the doors for small players to reach to a larger audience. Moreover, Rahul and his partners have shown how quality beers can be made with all-Indian malts,” says Shailendra Bist, co-founder of Pune’s Independence Brewing Company.
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(This story appears in the 20 February, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)