When brothers Van and Sumit Sharma found themselves back in their adopted hometown of Portland, Maine, helping out at their parents’ Indian restaurant during the pandemic, as they had growing up, the two began to ponder the question of what makes a really good beer to pair with Indian and other spicy food.
The pair set to work answering that question, drawing on their heritage and upbringing as fifth-generation Indian restauranteurs, and bringing on board veteran brewmaster Alan Pugsley, the founder of Shipyard Brewing Company and brewery consultant for seven other craft breweries, to lead the brewing process. After four test batches, Rupee Beer launched its flagship Premium Lager in October 2021, a beer they aim to become “the go-to pairing for Indian, spicy and robust world cuisine.”
This sophisticated, high-quality lager pairs low carbonation with a flavorsome combination of rice, maize and barley and a triple-hop blend that has gained Rupee multiple awards and press recognition. They have secured wide distribution in liquor and grocery stores, the Indian restaurant market and are the first Indian-owned beer brand to be distributed by major U.S. chains Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Costco and Total Wine & More. Not bad at all for one beer.
Now a firmly established brand, and with distribution (via Half Time Beverage) in over 30 states, Rupee’s founders have decided the time has come to expand, and this summer launched their second release, Rupee Mango Wheat Ale.
In keeping with their overarching goal of creating beer designed specifically to be paired with Indian and world cuisine, they have created an ale that is light and easy-drinking without compromising on flavor, using fresh mango puree. Differing from many other mango beers on the market, they pair the bright, juicy, tropical mango with the smooth softness of a wheat ale, allowing the fruit to shine without overwhelming it with high levels of hops or carbonation, and keeping to Rupee’s signature focus on drinkability.
“We developed a fantastic recipe with our brewers which really don’t overwhelm or compete against the rich and robust flavors Indian food brings, and also is easy enough to crush an entire 16-ounce can on a hot summer day at the beach without being overly sweet,” says co-founder Van Sharma.
For the Sharmas, creating their Mango Wheat Ale was also a chance to incorporate a traditional South Asian flavor into their beer, one that is very close to their hearts.
“We grew up on mangoes, being South Asian,” says Sharma. “They were always in our kitchen at home and anytime we went to one of our family’s Punjabi restaurants they could be found in everything from mango chicken, mango lassi, mango chutney, mango juice and our favorite mango ice cream.”
The pervasiveness of mango in South Asian cuisine makes it a natural fit for a beer crafted to accompany these foods – provided it is well-handled, something the combination of the Sharmas’ culinary background and Pugsley’s brewing expertise have successfully pulled together – the beer doesn’t fill you up or overwhelm your palate, focusing on quality and simplicity.
Beyond the personal connection the Sharmas feel towards mango, they have also chosen to brew with the fruit as a way of sharing their Indian culture and heritage with their growing body of drinkers.
“Being the national fruit of India, we knew we had to incorporate the tropical fruit into our next beer, and also tell the story of the Indian mango which you can find on our can,” says Sharma. And indeed, nestled into the sleek, stylish Rupee branding is short history of mangoes in India, including a lovely factual nugget tying the mango to the Rupee brand.
Considered and informative, this kind of fun and engaging cultural outreach comes from the Sharmas’ desire to brand Rupee as a global ambassador for South Asian beer. The Sharmas are keen to overturn cultural stereotypes while brewing high-quality beer and growing their business.
“We are in full-on growth mode right now and expanding into new markets but also trying to ensure we stay true to our original mission and vision to bring Indian craft beer to the world, as well as provide increased awareness on South Asia and the rise of India to an American market,” says Sharma.
Their grown-up yet crushable Mango Wheat Ale brings together these goals in its conception and delivery.
Beer provided by Rupee Beer, opinions writer’s own. All photos provided by Ruvani de Silva.