How war in Ukraine led to a new Indian beer in Poland
Combining Indian rice flakes with European hops, two Indian expats have found themselves carving a surprising niche in the brewing sector after releasing a hybrid beer born inadvertently from the war in Ukraine.
First meeting in Poland in 2015, Sargheve Sukumaran and Chandra Mohan Nallur coined the idea for a beer after the outbreak of war left them lumbered with 20,000 kilos of rice flakes.
Originally intended for a client, volatile exchange rates prompted the buyer to back out of the deal, leaving the friends saddled with a significant quantity of rice flakes.
Speaking to TFN, Nallur said: “The idea of a hybrid beer had been lingering in the back of our minds for a while, but it wasn’t until the challenging market conditions caused by the war that we seriously considered it as a viable opportunity.
“We had a shipment of rice flakes that were at risk of going to waste due to currency exchange fluctuations. Initially, we planned to use them to create a line of pet food, but due to lack of storage facilities, we had to scrap that plan.
“As the process of getting the necessary approvals proved to be too time-consuming, we pivoted to creating Malayali Beer instead. We had read about Komban beer, which was produced outside India, and that was our inspiration to find a use for the flakes.”
Yet whilst the initial plan had been to simply create a beer to get rid of the unwanted rice flakes, the duo found their product greeted enthusiastically.
“At first, when we entered brewing, we were surprised at how quickly our bank accounts started to shrink,” says Nallur. “But very soon after we started receiving really good feedback. People genuinely liked the beer and restaurants began reordering it – actually, the business has gone crazy!”
This unplanned success caused the two to reassess their ambitions.
“We never intended to go into brewing full-time,” says Nallur, “but it didn’t take long for us to decide that we should treat this as more than just a side project. Now we are fully vested in it.”
In itself, this has caused people to sit up and notice. “At first people were a little skeptical and figured this was just two friends producing a beer as a hobby,” says Nallur. “Now, they’ve seen we’re very serious about this.”
Just how serious has been reflected in sales that hit 50,000 bottles in just the first two months of business.
According to Sukumaran, the quality has been crucial. “We’ve tried to hit a sweet spot by creating beer that would appeal to the mass market whilst simultaneously having an artisanal quality,” he says. “We wanted something unique.”
Named Malayali after the people of Kerala – the region that both originally hail from – the branding has also been integral to the success.
“There’s a real story behind this beer,” says Sukumaran. “We wanted a beer that would stand out, and not just because of its flavour profile.”
Defined by its smoothness, the beer seeks to celebrate the rich history and vibrant culture of Kerala, and this much is underscored by a logo that references the region’s booming film industry as well as the traditional headgear worn by traditional dancers.
More than just a novelty product, the beer has further sought to bridge Indian and European cultures.
“Our master brewers have carefully crafted this beer to be a unique and delicious blend of flavors,” says Sukumaran. “The European hops provide a crisp and refreshing taste, while the Indian rice flakes add a subtle sweetness and smoothness to the finish.”
“The unique mix of flavors makes it perfect to pair with a wide range of food, from cheese platters, toasted veggies, spicy curries to grilled seafood and meat.”
Now, says Nallur, every major Indian restaurant in Poland has been reaching out to them. Furthermore, they are now looking beyond Poland’s border.
“As things stand, we are entering other European markets next month,” says Nallur, “and there’s even interest from the UK.”
The portfolio is also set to be expanded and will include a non-alcoholic beer – something of particular interest to the duo given their own personal drinking habits.
“I don’t actually drink,” says Nallur, “and Sargheve only drinks in moderation.”
Made with a mischievous smile, it’s a revelation that further highlights the extraordinary background of this beer.
“It’s nice that some people call us pioneers,” laughs Nallur, “but I guess when you consider the whole story, you could also call us weird!”