Deep Inside Simba Beer Territory

The name Simba used to remind me of the Lion King animated feature initially but this changed in 2017. I had discovered a new beer brand called Simba Beer on Instagram. I had never heard about this brand before and immediately started following them on Instagram and commenting on the teasers they were publishing.

I remember direct messaging them after seeing a friend of mine, a professor from a brewing university abroad, in one of their published photos, in what seemed to be some sort of sensory analysis session of what looked like a sample of stouts.

Simba ended up following me back and this lead to many interesting things. As I write this post, I’m told that Simba turns Three Years Old on May 04th, 2019! Coincidence or Conspiracy? You decide!

Happy Birthday Simba!

Discovering Simba

A few months later, on one of my routine trips to Mumbai, the design agency handling Simba and their Social Media, Beard Design had invited me over to their corporate office. I got an opportunity to try out their lager. At the time Simba’s beers (two lager variants) were only being sold in Chattisgarh and the North East. Two brand new Craft Beer variants were being worked on and would be released later in the year. This is what I was really excited about and was doing my best to extract information from the design guys but they were pretty tight lipped.

Simba Lager

Later in 2017, I had just flown to Gurgaon for a new IPA launch and a day later, Rahul Singh, founder of The Beer Café had sent over 2 Simba Stout bottles – India’s first bottled Stout. I took these bottled Stouts back to Bangalore and taste tested them. Soon after, I was able to procure samples of the Wit. Keep in mind, I got to sample these well before these variants were launched across India. Taste testing products yet to go to market is something I’ve been doing since my time spent on the consumer panel at Molson Coors, Canada back in 2011. It’s something that proves valuable to brands and may seem unfair to the public but it’s actually part of my role in the Beer ecosystem.

What was my impression of both of these new beers? I liked both variants. They were unique in their own way – a refreshing light bodied Belgian Wit with added lemongrass, in addition to the expected orange peels and coriander. India’s first bottled Craft Stout, albeit a light one was full of rich espresso, caramel/toffee and dark chocolate flavors true to style.

Simba Stout
Simba Wit

Simba Goa Launch

I went on to write about Simba in an India Today article for their October 30, 2017 issue. A few weeks after this, I helped Simba launch its Craft beers for the very first time, at a Beer Festival called The Beer Circus Goa, in early November 2017.

Article link (PDF) –
https://talesoffroth.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/india-today-article-october-2017.pdf

The Beer Circus is a convergence of beer lovers, showcasing the best of beer brands/breweries, beer foods, live music and flea shopping. The two-day festival is a celebration of a blissful state of mind crafted for a unique end-to-end experience.

The Beer Circus Goa 2017 was held on 4th & 5th November at Stone Water Eco Resort,Bogmalo. The beers were very well received during the festival and little did I know that this was to be the start of my relationship with not just the brand but Simba’s owners. I met co-founder, Ishwaraj Singh Bhatia a few days after the conclusion of the Beer Circus and we then made it a point to stay in regular touch with each other. It was very clear that I would be working closely with Simba in the near future.

Simba Re-Branding

After Goa, the bottles were re-branded. The labels looked a lot cleaner and in my opinion more in line with Craft Beer – clean, crisp and focused on the product inside.

Simba Delhi Launch

In  early June 2018, Simba launched its beers in Delhi and much to my surprise and delight, they wanted me to be a part of their official launch event.  Not only did they fly me up to Delhi for this event but they asked me to bring five of my friends along with me. We were treated like VIPs and put up in at The Roseate, a luxurious boutique hotel in Aero City, Delhi and provided with transport to take us sightseeing. The Simba team went above and beyond to make sure each one of us was well looked after.

The Delhi launch event was held at Lavaash By Saby, a cosy restaurant that specializes in Armenian cuisine. The decor was turned into a jungle theme by Simba, complete with musicians playing world music, canapes and plenty of Simba to go around.

My good friend and popular Alcobev writer Karina Aggarwal co-hosted the event along with Simba’s owners. Both variants – the Wit and the Stout were launched and received a lot positive feedback.

Delhi FoF Meet

Right after the launch, we hosted a Friends Of Froth meet up at The Beer Cafe Biggie, Connaught Place. Simba were kind enough to sponsor of our Beers & Food for the evening.

We had a decent turn out, shared a few laughs, pints and made some new friends too.

Simba Wild Guides & Beret

Weeks after the Delhi launch, a small box had arrived at my doorstep and the contents really blew my mind.

The box contained a custom-made and initialed French beret made of 100% wool and yes, made in France. On the side panel, the words “Finely Crafted For JJ The Keg” were stitched on. Underneath the beret was a copy of Simba’s brand new edition of the new Wild Guide series – 2018 Goa Edition. They featured me as an influencer and took my opinion on the coolest spots in Goa that I liked to frequent, that also carried Simba.

You’ll find a link to download these guides at the end of this post.

Simba Bangalore Launch

After several delays (thanks to Excise) and months gone by, Simba , I went on to co-host Simba’s Bangalore launch event in Bangalore, held at the quirky yet cool, Forxtrot, House Of Sub-Culture. Part of my duties also included helping curate the evening’s guest list.

After Prabhtej Singh Bhatia, Simba’s CEO and co-founder got to address the gathering, they asked me to share a few words. I was delighted to share my Simba journey with the launch guests.

It was a fun filled launch party with an upbeat vibe, Simba decor, live music and plenty of Wits and Stouts being poured all around. One of the neatest aspects of this launch was that I was able to wear the Beret Simba gifted me prior.

All guests received some goodies from Simba including their “spent grain” cakes. Spent grains are those left over from the brewing process and are low in sugars, but high in proteins and fiber. These can be used to make bread, granola bars, cakes and so forth.

Beer Workshops

Just before Christmas 2018, Simba co-sponsored the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa – a three day event. During the event, I conducted three Beer 101 workshops, which were very well received. It was great to see the public react to Craft Beer specifically Simba’s Wit & Stout.

We also handed out cakes made with spent grain – the bi-product from making both variants. These have been such a great hit that Simba should look at making these full time!

Simba Mumbai Launch

The launch took place on February 15, 2019 and Simba were kind enough once again to make me part of the event. I loved the invite which brought back nothing but childhood nostalgia.

The Invite itself was a series of sketches that you flip through in series to see the whole invite come alive. It included a lovely Simba pin and a wrist band for venue entry.

I checked into the luxurious Taj Santa Cruz and later that evening made my way to Juhu Beach, where the event was being held at Razzbery Rhinoceros.

You can’t get a better venue than Razzberry – it’s a mix of indoor and outdoor space (mostly outdoor) that faces the sea.

The Simba photo booth installed was an instant hit. The beers were received very well and the launch party here deemed a success. Guests were all given Simba goody bags complete with “Spent Grain” cakes again.

After Mumbai, Simba went on to do a soft launch in Kolkota and soon will be available in several key metros across the country.

Simba wanted to do something else besides music events and pop up parties to promote the brand and this has lead to several different concepts.

Simba Themed Beer Dinners

We came up with the idea of Simba paired dinners for a select table of guests. I co-hosted a Beer Dinner for Simba at the Reservoire Bangalore for a group of 8 Beer enthusiasts. Whist the menu was created by the restaurant and Simba, I suggested the beer parings which interestingly enough all worked with the exception of one dish – perfectly fine.

Food pairing with Beer is a science but it’s also about experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t.

We went on to do two more Beer themed dinners, one at Misu and I just finished hosting one last night at the Miraya Hotel. More events are being planned for the rest of the year not just in Bangalore but across the country.

Brewery Visit

Most recently, the Simba family invited me to visit the Simba Brewery in Durg, near Raipur, in the State of Chattisgarh. This was my time visiting the region and an absolute honor to be invited to tour the facility.

I’ve never been to or heard much about Chattisgarh let alone Raipur. Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to see a modern airport with state of the art facilities that has been well appointed. Never listen to hearsay and you won’t know what a place or even for that matter a beer is like, unless you have experienced it yourself.

Raipur Airport

The family sent over one of their chauffeur driven limos complete with a chaperone. Sidhanth Bhutani, who heads marketing had flown down from Delhi to keep me company. We drove to the Hyatt Raipur, I checked in, freshened up and then stepped out again.

We drove to Simba’s Raipur HQ and briefly met up with Ishwaraj Bhatia. Together, we all headed out to the brewery, which was a one and a half hour drive away, located in Durg.

The Simba Brewery is set on acres of land, in an industrial area. Once inside the gates, you pass by well manicured lawns over to the main entrance. There are plans to set up a visitors center by the end of 2019 and open the brewery to the public for official tours.

I’ve been to a handful of production breweries till date and this one is a behemoth in comparison. Let’s take a look at the facilities starting with Hot Side, then Cold and finally to the Filling/Packaging line and ending at the Warehouse.

The Brewing Process

The Brewhouse

The Simba has a state of the art Praj system that has a 300,000 HL per year total plant capacity. This translates to roughly 3.6 million cases per year.

There are plans to do the following:

  1. Increase production capacity to double – 600,000 HL per year translating to roughly 7.2 million cases per year.
  2. Install an additional canning and kegging line.
  3. A new pilot brewery (sizable) will be installed for R&D purposes. You’ll be seeing new variants in the pipeline.

The Brewhouse section consists of the Mash Tun, Lauter Tun, Boil Kettle and Whirlpool.

Brewhouse Video – Click on the video below to play.

Brewhouse

Cold Side – Fermenters, Yeast Propagation & Bright Beer Tanks

Once the Wort has been cooled after the boil & centrifuge, it is pumped into the fermenters where yeast (stored in the propagation system) is pitched.

Primary fermentation takes up to a week, after which the Beer is transferred for maturation/conditioning, clarification and carbonation to a Bright Beer Tank before being processed for packaging.

Simba have their own lab where they cultivate yeast themselves and also do their batch testing and sensory analysis

Filling/Packaging

Once the Beer is ready, it eventually makes its way to the packaging line waiting to be filled.

The state of the art packaging line, including equipment from Krones, Germany can handle 14,400 bottles per hour.

New bottles are inspected for flaws, then sanitized before being sent into the filling machine. Once filled & capped, the fill levels are checked and then the bottles are sent into the pasteurizer. The next stop is the labeling machine.

Once labelled, the bottles head of to the packaging line where they are automatically picked up and placed into cases.

Storage/Warehouse

After packaging, the cases are stored in the gigantic warehouse, ready for dispatch all over India.

Touring the brewery was an amazing experience and I truly am privileged and lucky to have had this wonderful experience.

Thank you Simba Brewery Team!

After the brewery, Prabhtej called me over to their family home for dinner – once again what an honor. I had a great time talking to him and the family before I said my goodbyes and headed back to my hotel and it was back to the airport and Bangalore in the morning.

Prabhtej,JJ,Ishwaraj & Siddhant

My experience with Simba so far has been amazing and it’s always good to see a brand with owners who really care about their products and the people they work with.

Viewpoint

Yes, this brewery is much larger than some of the new production Craft Breweries in India but it has been equipped to churn out quality Craft Beers. Simba have the option of using a centrifuge/mesh filter instead of pasteurization, if they choose to do so. In November, I had visited a production Craft Brewery and I’d have to say Simba’s plant was equally big or bigger than what I saw in Belgium.

Simba own their own brewery and are family run – this is what Craft is all about.

People who point fingers at them for producing small batches of commercial lagers, give it a rest. Running an operation as big as Simba’s costs a lot and if you have extra capacity, there is nothing wrong with contract brewing for another brand.

The fact that they are investing in a pilot brewery and doubling capacity of the existing plant is proof that they are in this for the long run and will be producing several variants not just the 2 you see on the shelves in select metros.

In India, the Beer market is just starting to grow and the Craft Beer Market is still 1-2% of the overall Beer market, with Strong Beer occupying 80% market share and the remainder is Premium lager territory. It would make business sense for a larger brewery to tap into the larger market share to drive excess revenue into helping build Craft Beer sales and growth. This is exactly what Simba plans to do and to that I say, more power to them!

Current Craft Beer Portfolio

Belgian Wit | 5% ABV

Summertime in all seasons. Wit is refreshing and crisp, with a hint of orange peel, coriander and lemongrass. Recommended all day, every day.

Pours golden, slight opaque in appearance with a fluffy head that dissipates shortly after.

On the nose, you can make out the lemongrass aroma mixed with the citrus and spice from the coriander along with some bready notes. On the palate, slightly sweet and grainy, light bodied, with the lemongrass, citrus and spice all working together to add to the flavor ending in a light bitter finish.

Citrusy, Light, Easy and Refreshing overall. This is a nice change from the other bottled wits in the market so far and it’s not overly sweet, which is great.

Complaints – Some batches have been overly sweet. This feedback has been recorded by Simba and steps have been taken to rectify this issue.

Stout | 5% ABV

Plunge into the dark side. The Stout has a deep ebony color, voluptuous mahogany head and bold, roasty flavors. We think you’ll love it.

Pours dark brown, almost black with a creamy off white head that dissipates shortly afterwards.

On the nose, coffee dominates supported by toffee, caramel and hints of dark chocolate. These flavors transpose themselves to the palate as well as roasted grains. Smooth and creamy mouthfeel but a lot lighter in body than most other stouts with a low bitter finish.

Stout purists can argue that this Stout is too light bodied but if you do your homework, you’ll find that some Stouts can indeed be lighter bodied to make them more sessionable.

Complaints – Some batches have been cloyingly sweet. This is an issue that needs a recipe change/tweak. Simba have promised to change the recipe by making it less sweet and more roastier, which is exactly needed.

New Product – Light Lager/Strong Lager

Simba always had a Strong and Regular lager offering previously for a few select markets. These beers have since been modified for the markets where their premium offerings are being sold.

I tried the new “Light” variant at the Simba Brewery and found it to be a simple, clean, crisp, light lager. There are some floral/fruity aromas from the hops used but the bitterness here isn’t overwhelming or underwhelming either. This is definitely going to be a great edition to the Simba portfolio and a good palate cleanser in between more complex beers, for example.

India loves it’s “strong” beers and there’s no reason why you can’t make an 8% ABV lager well. Most of the strong beers which are in the market today are made very poorly from poor ingredients and short cut brewing techniques such as high gravity brewing. Beers aren’t conditioned right resulting in harsh profiles and off flavors and fusels.

Simba’s strong has been made with more care, better ingredients and does taste better. You can test a little alcohol coming through, but the clean, crispness of the beer and good carbonation help make it smoother and easier to drink.

In closing, I’m very excited about these 2 new lagers which will be entering the market by the end of May/early June – Goa, Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Thank you for reading this lengthy blog post. Be sure to follow Tales Of Froth on Social Media and share your own Beer journeys on our Facebook Beer Commune, Friends Of Froth.

Cheers & Stay Frothy!

JJ The Keg

References

Simba Beer Website – Click HERE

Simba Wild Guides – Click HERE

Beard Design – Click HERE

Friends Of Froth – Click HERE


All Images Courtesy Sona Beverages/Simba/Tales Of Froth

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