Kolkata’s first microbrewery—The Grid—turned five in July this year. We catch up with its founder, Gaurav Karnani, to find out how he did it and what makes him so passionate about craft beers
A dynamic Gaurav Karnani began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 16. From door-to-door selling to owning a microbrewery, Karnani has come a long way. Over the years, the prolific businessman has diversified into numerous business verticals under the Karnani Group with Chemtex Speciality Limited—engaged in the manufacturing of industrial speciality chemicals—being the flagship establishment.
Passionate about the hospitality industry and with a keen interest and love for beer, Karnani decided to follow his passion and open a microbrewery five years ago. It was certainly challenging, given the stringent regulations, but his perseverance and determination paid off. The microbrewery opened and found great acceptance among the city’s discerning diners and drinkers. Over the years The Grid has picked up a lot of accolades, locally as well as nationally. Karnani hopes to open more outlets across the city in coming years.
Outside work, Gaurav loves to travel. When not in Kolkata, he loves heading off on long drives, playing online video games and, of course, sipping his favourite brews—Caldera Hefeweizen and Caldera American Blonde—at The Grid. On the occasion of The Grid turning five, we spoke to him about his journey in the world of craft beer and what lies ahead.
What inspired you to get into the microbrewery business?
The inspiration certainly came while I was travelling around India, parts of Europe and USA. The concept of having a craft brewery excites anyone! I took action and pursued it. I am a beer lover and wanted to share my enthusiasm with everyone around me. What started as a dream, slowly manifested itself in front of me and finally ‘The Grid’ took shape.
What was the learning curve like? Did you enjoy the journey?
Of course! The journey has been phenomenal. The concept of a microbrewery was new, and there were so many aspects I was unaware of. Once I got a hang of it, it got really exciting. Like any other business there are hurdles you have to pass, bureaucracy to deal with, pandemic, lockdowns, etc. If it’s not challenging, one wouldn’t enjoy the journey, so yes, it’s been a lot of fun.
How does it feel to have completed five years? What regulatory hurdles did you face when you were opening? Do you feel vindicated?
It’s a great feeling to complete five years. The vision was always to have a long-term goal and make the brand the talk of the town. I never expected that the buzz would spread and reach other parts of India. It made all our efforts worthwhile.
Regulatory hurdles are a continuous process. When we started The Grid, the challenges were new and we battled them as a team. One major challenge I clearly remember was that in order to start a microbrewery, there were several licences which we had to acquire. This was a tedious process and all that effort was finally vindicated.
What is the craft beer scene in India like? Is there maturity in the craft or is it just something fashionable?
Craft beer is not a fad, it is here to stay. When we say craft beer, we are brewing a better quality beer. If you like beer, you will love our craft beer since it’s fresh, natural, devoid of unnecessary chemicals, colours or artificial additives. It tastes better than most commercial and linear lagers.
The clientele which prefer our craft beers are well travelled and they market our product because of the quality. This should indicate that one doesn’t drink craft beer for fashion but to enjoy the beverage too.
It all boils down to how passionate you are about the business of craft beer and to what extent you want the business to scale up to. If you are confident about your product then the customers will appreciate the product and the community of craft beer enthusiasts will thrive.
Tell us something about the brewing process at The Grid.
The brewing process is similar to any other brewpub or microbrewery. It starts with milling, mashing, lautering, boiling, whirlpooling, cooling, fermenting, maturing, storing and dispensing. The process may be the same but the art of performing these tasks in harmony varies from one brewer to another. We are blessed with a good brewing team who perform the brewing process meticulously.
How often do you change what you’re brewing?
We do not change the craft beers. Instead we bring in new variants. There are a few permanent craft beers which the customers swear by and they never get changed. We have specials which we introduce during festivals, some seasonal beers which change based on the availability of raw materials, etc. We are currently hosting an Oktoberfest wherein the Marzen (festbier) will be served in one-litre steins. This is quite popular with our regulars.
Which beers are trending right now?
There are several craft beers which are trending. There are different audiences for different variants. Caldera Hefeweizen is quite popular and easily approachable for anyone. We have an oatmeal stout which has its own cult following. There’s a delectable New England IPA which is bursting with tropical flavours of guava, mango, passion fruit, etc. all coming from our special blend of hops. We also have a cider which is popular. All the taps are busy during the weekends, so each craft beer has its own audience.
How have you tweaked your offerings based on customer preferences?
Customers are our heroes and they have been very supportive throughout our ups and downs. We have tweaked several items based on their feedbacks and they come back to appreciate the product. Our fan base goes beyond Kolkata and they stop by whenever they are in the city. We are grateful for their constant support and constructive criticism. It helps make our brand stronger and improve it.
What is your own beer drinking style and preference?
The craft beer variants are enormous. When I am at The Grid, my go-to craft beer would be Caldera Hefeweizen and Caldera Blonde. Our New England IPA is slick too, so sometimes I end up with a pint of that. There is no set preference. The whole point of craft beer is to experiment and understand different flavour profiles.
Any ventures you are working on at the moment?
Our hard work has got a lot of accolades and we wanted our craft beers to be available throughout Kolkata, so we are working on several modules which can help reach our widespread fan base. We will be launching our craft beer brand Caldera soon. We will also be selling kegs to other outlets and after that we will be bottling our craft beer.
We will also unveil an exquisite banquet by November. There are other ambitious plans which we will reveal in due course.