Two young management graduates seal their friendship with St. Erhard, a start-up that brews beer in Bavaria, ships it to India

Never underestimate banter; it can bring about a storm! In this case, a whole new venture labours to life that now makes it possible to have in India a brew made in the famed German beer territory of Bavaria. Tell you how. Young management graduates Vikanshu Bhargava and Christian Klemenz cross paths at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, as part of a student exchange programme. A friendship develops between the IIM-A student Vikanshu and Christian, an undergraduate then pursuing MSc. in Business from HLL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, Saxony. In casual conversations, Christian, born and brought up in the Bavarian city of Bamberg — it has an unusually high number (8) of breweries for an under one lakh population — mentions missing home, including sipping a Bamberg ale, in Ahmedabad, a dry city.

“I found out that you could get all kinds of international beer brands in the Indian cities but none from Germany, particularly the Bavarian region which is famous worldwide for its distinctive ales,” says Christian.

The bantercontinues and the duo good humouredly talks of business possibilities there. And before they know it, they are asked to craft a project on “Entrepreneurship: New Ventures” as part of the course.

“We thought, why not make the project on brewing a German beer for the Indian market. When the professors saw it, they liked the idea and it dawned on us that such a thing is doable. So when we graduated, we formed a company to make the project a reality,” weaves in Vikanshu.

That was 2010. They got down to setting up the inventory in Bamberg, hired “one of the best brew masters there” to craft their beer, did a series of blind testing and named it St. Erhard after the famous Bavarian saint. “A round of beer takes about six weeks to mature,” says Christian. It took them months to negotiate through Indian bureaucratic, licensing and customs hurdles, and then a joyous sense of achievement laced them when in June this year, the first consignment arrived in India.

“We got immense help from the German Embassy here, the Indo-German Chambers of Commerce plus the alumni of IIM-A in the liquor industry. That helped us a lot to understand the market,” says Vikanshu. Just recently, the duo has also been able to attract the first round of funds from investors. Buoyed by it, they just launched the brand at The Beer Café, Gurgaon.

St. Erhard is marketed as “a premium luxury brand”, pegged in retail shops at approximately Rs.330 for 330 ml and around Rs.400-425 in restaurants in Gurgaon, Delhi and Chandigarh. Vikanshu says, “There are already so many beer brands, we wanted to give customers something unique and what more can a beer drinker ask for than a quality Bavarian brew. Our target segment is customers with a good earning power, who want to unwind with a high quality drink.”

But how is St. Erhard different? “Our beer follows the typical method by which a Bavarian beer is made. That makes it an authentic product. There is no cornstarch, no glycerine, no additives in it, just hop and water,” says Christian.

As part of an expansion plan, they want to market the famed smoked beer of Bamberg in India. Also, in the coming months, there is a plan to take St. Erhard to other Indian cities, to Mumbai, etc. “We are expecting the next consignment in India in February 2013. The June consignment had 10,000 bottles but the next will have 40,000. Soon we will need another round of investments,” says Vikanshu. The friends-turned-business-partners don’t quite know from where it will spring but then, they never started off with a map with preset routes.