Walking into a bar in India, it is hard to miss the bottles of Bira 91 beer.
Featuring a cartoon monkey with a punk hairdo and one eye smaller than the other, the labels read: “Imagined in India”.
Despite only launching in 2015, Bira 91 is now immensely popular across a country dominated by ubiquitous Kingfisher.
Entrepreneur Ankur Jain started the brand when he moved back to his native New Delhi after 10 years living in New York.
Noticing a gap in the Indian market for craft beers – beers more flavourful and carefully brewed than mass-market lager – he decided to start his own brewing business with $600,000 (£427,000) of funding raised largely from friends and family.
The company began operations out of Hauz Khas Village, a neighbourhood often considered to be Delhi’s hipster haven, and known for its bars and artsy boutiques.
Yet while the Bira 91 head office is in Delhi, the brewing was initially done 4,000 miles (6,400 km) away in Belgium, hence the slogan “imagined in India” rather than “brewed in India”.
Mr Jain says he went to Belgium because he couldn’t initially find a brewery in India that he thought was good enough.
With the Belgians being world renowned for their brewing expertise, Bira 91’s two initial beers were quickly a hit in India. So much so that Bira 91 couldn’t import the bottles quickly enough, and in 2016 it started making the beers at a facility in the central Indian city of Indore.
By the end of last year, annual production had increased 30-fold to 300,000 barrels of five different beers, and the company’s annual revenues had reached $30m.
At the same time Bira 91 had secured $35m of external investment, including from US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.
Mr Jain now has his eyes set on worldwide sales, and you cannot accuse him of not being ambitious.
“The intent is to become the first global brand of craft beer,” he says.
Bira 91 (the 91 comes from India’s international dialling code) already exports its beers to the US, specifically to New York and New Jersey.
It first started selling in those two states in 2016, after deciding to push the brand by sponsoring that year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.
“Our brand is in the middle of extreme hipsterdom and extreme mainstream,” says Mr Jain. “Metaphorically Tribeca [a neighbourhood of New York City] is that too – it’s not the Upper East Side, and it’s not Brooklyn – so it worked for us.”
Currently Bira 91 exports 2% of its Indian production to the US, but plans to increase that as it expands into Philadelphia and Boston. It also intends to start brewing in New York in the near future.
And it hopes to be selling into Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok by the end of 2018.
Now with 320 employees, Mr Jain says that he recently felt a need to reduce operational inertia in the company, and foster a culture of openness to new ideas.
“My active attempt was to ensure that a lot more people have decision-making empowerment,” says the founder and chief executive.
To do this Mr Jain decided to flatten the organisational structure of the…