Ironhill India: Craft beer for the common folk

With its newest microbrewery in Bengaluru claimed to be the largest in the world, and three other outlets in Visakhapatnam, Vijaywada and Hyderabad, Ironhill India is bringing craft beer to newer audiences. TravelDine catches up with managing partner Teja Chekuri to learn more.

Craft beer is quite the booming industry in India these days, especially so in the southern part of the country. Bengaluru, for instance, has been known for its many breweries serving up top notch brews for quite a few years now. And while there are several established names in the space, given that the craft beer industry has enormous scope for growth, there’s also a constant stream of new players making their way into the market. Ironhill India, although hardly a novice in the industry, is one such new name in Bengaluru. And its mission is a simple one – to serve up craft beer to the common man.

Ironhill India craft beer outlet
The Ironhill India microbrewery in Bengaluru is spread across 1.3 lakh sq ft and is claimed to be the largest in India. It has capacity to accommodate more than 1,500 people.

Ironhill has announced its arrival in Bengaluru with an enormous microbrewery, spread across 1.3 lakh sq ft, and says it’s the largest one in the world. It very well might be, because there certainly aren’t many establishments that can fit in over 1,500 people, which is what Ironhill says its capacity is.

We caught up with the managing partner of Ironhill India, Teja Chekuri, to understand the story of this brand which started out not in any of the metros but in Visakhapatnam.

“When we started out in 2012, we noticed that most of the breweries are targeting premium areas and segments. They were in the bigger cities and catered to areas which are usually considered ‘posh’. Our vision was to introduce craft beer to the mid-segment, in smaller cities, in areas that aren’t considered premium. We even crafted our menus based on this ethos, shifting the focus away from the continental fare that most breweries were serving. The fact is that these areas that we’re considering cater mainly to the middle class. Now while the middle class’ purchasing power isn’t as much as say that of those in the premium areas, it still makes business sense to have outlets here. One can play the volume game here, and since most of the others are focused on the premium areas, there’s very little competition too. So, that’s how we started off in Visakhapatnam, followed by Vijaywada and Hyderabad.”

Bengaluru, having long held the title of the beer capital of the country and with its numerous well-loved and established watering holes, might not seem like the best fit for a brand that’s looking to cater to newer audiences. But Ironhill has a plan. “In Bengaluru, places such as Koramangala and Indiranagar are considered as the premium areas and they have a tonne of well established players already. But Marathahalli, which is where our newest outlet is located, is considered more a mid-segment area. And that’s how we differentiate ourselves.”

Ironhill India Bengaluru craft beer outlet
Located in Bengaluru’s Marathahalli, Ironhill India is confident about its advantage in terms of space. Even if competitors spring up nearby, none would manage to be larger than a tenth of its size.

When he says mid-segment though, Teja Chekuri only means in terms of the establishment’s catchment area. The service, quality and experience are all on par with the best in the business. “It’s not like we’re confined to only Tier II cities. We’re expanding everywhere. However, whether in Tier I or II cities, the areas we’re catering to are Tier II. Our aim is to bring that same top tier experience of craft beer at a microbrewery to people who haven’t really had much exposure to it, not for lack of anything but access.”

And the brand has also hedged its investments well with the outlets. “Right now, there isn’t any competition for us in the areas of our presence. But it’s a rather common practice for similar businesses to pop up in a particular area if one starts to do well. Where we have the advantage is in the kind of experience we provide. Our Bengaluru outlet for instance, is spread across an enormous area. Even when other microbreweries enter the same area, there spaces won’t be more than a tenth of our size. Given the climate in Bengaluru, people here love open spaces and our entire space is geared towards outdoor seating. And it’s the same story in Hyderabad as well, where there’s no other brewery of this size nearby.”

Aside from the Bengaluru outlet, even the one in Hyderabad opened in March. Given the current scenario, opening two new outlets definitely means Ironhill India is coming from a place of optimism. “Both our outlets in Visakhapatnam and Vijaywada have been doing very well, our biggest advantage being that there’s no competition. Even until date, nobody has been able to establish the kind of space we have.”

However, it’s obviously not been an easy journey to opening these new spaces in the middle of a pandemic. “Our Bengaluru outlet was actually scheduled to open in August of last year. The first wave delayed things considerably. But despite the struggles, what has been an encouraging trend is that as soon restrictions have been eased, we’ve witnessed steady footfalls at all the outlets. Even for the one short month we were working under regular operating hours, before the second wave hit, we did quite well. And in fact, with Bengaluru now staying open until 9pm, we’re again seeing more people come in.”

And while the struggle through the pandemic has been a hard one, Teja feels it has also taught some crucial lessons. “Cleanliness and hygiene is something that has come under sharp focus with the pandemic. This is a trend that is likely to positively affect the entire population’s approach for years to come, if not permanently. So, apart from inculcating these habits into how we do business, I think it’ll become a part of life in general. The other thing the pandemic has taught us is financial prudence. Earlier, if there were any gains, we would invest it in opening a new outlet or expanding otherwise. Now, we’ve learnt to maintain cash reserves for at least six months, so, even if we have to shut down the business, like during the lockdowns, we can stay afloat.”

Time to discuss the beers. The brewing at Ironhill India is done under the watchful eyes of a master brewer from Germany. He keeps travelling between the four current outlets, checking the recipes, monitoring the quality and supervising the various assistant brewers. When it comes to deciding on flavours though, it’s a bit of a team effort. “We are all constantly travelling. Whether it’s me or the master brewer himself, if we encounter any particular beer we like on our travels, we try and see if that would work back home. Of course, each market drinks differently and what works in Europe might not work in India. For example, IPAs are usually very bitter. In India, we tend to brew it such that it’s not that bitter. Then there are certain flavours which will be an instant hit, such as mango beer, which is super popular in India. We also take feedback from our customers on the beers on tap. Depending on the things they like or don’t like, we come up with new flavours.”

With the outlets in Visakhapatnam, Vijaywada, Hyderabad and Bengaluru up and running, Ironhill India has consolidated its presence in the southern part of the country. Next up, it’s eyeing the markets up north and in the west, with outlets expected in Gurgaon and Pune by end of 2022. We already know that size matters for Ironhill India, so, here’s looking forward to swanking new, enormous craft beer outlets as we emerge on the other side of the pandemic.

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