A female brewing collective releasing a collaboration beer for International Women’s Month may not sound particularly unusual, but Ladies Who Lager isn’t just any female brewing collective. As the very first group of Indian women brewers to conceptualize, brew, and package-release their own IWM beer, Geist Stratosphere Lager, the Bangalore collective comprises six female brewers who are making their mark in the Indian craft beer industry.
India has seen its craft beer market explode over the last decade, and even the pressures of Covid-19 have failed to slow the sector’s growth rate of 20 to 30 percent year-on-year. Although craft beer only accounts for 2 to 3 percent of the Indian beer market (as opposed to 12 percent in the U.S.), big cities like Mumbai, Pune, and Bangalore have busy, dynamic craft beer scenes, with over 60 craft breweries in Bangalore alone. A quick scroll through Instagram accounts for Geist, By The Peepal, or Mannheim Brewing reveals the same hip, leafy beer gardens, sleek glassware, and extensive range of beer styles and flavors you’d expect to find in your local American taproom. Many of India’s young, affluent middle class have traveled and tried craft beer in Europe or America and want to recreate their experiences at home, including Geist Brewing’s head brewer Vidya Kubher, who discovered craft beer through a role in finance that took her to the beer halls of Munich. Craft beer culture as a whole is being embraced by urban Indians, reflected by the growing visibility of women as both drinkers and industry professionals.
The formation of Ladies Who Lager and the release of the Geist Stratosphere comes at a pivotal moment. The Indian government’s Centre for Alcohol Studies projects that the women’s alcohol market will grow up to 25 percent in the next five years, but much of the marketing directed toward female drinkers has focused on stereotypical tropes of women enjoying sweet, fruity drinks and “pinkwashing” –– something the Ladies Who Lager are keen to push back against.
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The concept behind the Geist Stratosphere is to create a beer with a universal appeal, breaking down misconceptions about women and the industry by placing an emphasis on accessibility and approachability, as well as showcasing the talent and brewing experience of the collective. The six women began by working up the concept for the beer by factoring in their own taste preferences, the humid Bangalore climate, and the desire to brew a beer for everyone. “We wanted to brew something very sessionable and easy for the summers, and a style that we all enjoy — and the beer isn’t pink!” notes Aishwarya Ritti, founder of Barley & Us brewing consultancy.
Geist’s head of brand and communications, Geetanjali Chitnis, has led the project’s coordination and PR, and wants Ladies Who Lager to represent a new way of approaching both International Women’s Month and the way women are perceived in the beer world. Chitnis has focused on steering it away from the idea that beer marketing needs to be gender-segregated, while simultaneously celebrating the skill and professionalism of the collective.
Creating packaging that adequately reflects this messaging is a central part of this goal. Geist’s brand and design consultant, Sanjana Bhatt, has been with the company for 15 months and was immediately on board with the project. “I knew I wanted to represent an endeavor, to allude to the breaking of a glass ceiling, to imply a transformation” Bhatt says of the swirling staircase adorning the beer’s cans and crowlers, artistic nods to perseverance, upward mobility, and success.
Working together on the beer was a bonding experience for the six women, as well as a chance to share their knowledge and expertise. “The idea of brewing with these strong, beautiful ladies made me want to join Ladies Who Lager,” says Megha Dalimbe, brewer at Byg Brewski. “These are the women I look up to, I get inspired to work in a better way. We understand each other pretty well as we all talk a beer language.” Ritti has similar feelings, adding that she joined the Ladies Who Lager beer project to “inspire more women to choose brewing as a career and to convey a message that the women in the industry play a very vital role.”
Karina Aggarwal is the founder and director of Gigglewater Beverage Concepts and an independent consultant working with beer brands in India. As an international beer judge, she sees the project as a game changer. “I’ve loved hearing how this brew has been built,” she says, “Bringing together women brewers from across breweries is such a fun and powerful idea. I’m hoping it sets the tone for so much more to come where women –– whether brewers or critics or drinkers –– are no longer the anomaly in the industry.”
The beer is a hoppy lager brewed with Strata hops and local aralu puffed paddy rice. “Being a Bangalore-based brewery, we wanted to add something uniquely Bangalore,” says Kubher of the aralu, which, when combined with the Strata hops, gives the beer “a nuanced yet distinct aroma.” The head brewer at Seven Rivers Brewing, Lynnette Pires. describes the beer as having “a crisp, malty body with notable stone fruit, tropical aromas, and a balanced hop finish –– super crushable.” With swathes of positive feedback on social media, the beer has already proven a hit at the Geist taproom, and is about to hit liquor store shelves, pubs, clubs, and restaurants around Bangalore through the brand’s distribution network.
With securing off-site beer distribution rights still proving highly complex in most of India, Geist’s status as the only brewery in South India with the required license and infrastructure to release the beer around the city makes its involvement in the project crucial. “We wanted to provide as much exposure as possible to the work of our women brewer colleagues,” says Narayan Manepally, founder & CEO of Geist Brewing. “We wanted to provide a platform through Ladies Who Lager for more women to join the brewing community.”
With all participants on board for future collaborations and the significant exposure the project is receiving, Ladies Who Lager seems to be heralding a significant shift in perceptions of women in beer in India. While this is still very much an urban phenomenon, the Geist Stratosphere is still an important milestone for Indian women in beer.