Meet Van and Sumit Sharma – the force behind USA’s first Indian-American Beer Brand: Rupee Beer

Van and Sumit Sharma
Van and Sumit Sharma
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Van and Sumit Sharma, Founders of Rupee Beer

The beer market in the USA is vast and dynamic, reflecting the diverse tastes and preferences of consumers nationwide. With an extensive array of domestic and imported brands, the USA beer market boasts a rich tapestry of flavors, styles, and brewing techniques. Among this array of brands, a special beer brand is emerging in the nation: Rupee Beer

Rupee Beer, named after the currency of India, is a bright golden lager created by two Indian-American brothers Vanit (Van) Sharma and Sumit Sharma who are residents of Maine. The genesis of Rupee lies in a quest to craft a libation that seamlessly complements the richness of Indian flavors. 

Rupee Beer with Indian Flavors
Rupee Beer with Indian Flavors

This is their incredible story of a global life of adventure, immigrants making a difference in their society, and creating impact through entrepreneurship. Rooted in Maine, their family’s journey from London to Portland, Maine in 1990 laid the foundation for their foray into brewing, culminating in the creation of Rupee Beer. 

Van Sharma was just a kindergartener when his family established a trio of Indian restaurants. Van and Sumit went through the characteristic immigrant experience. “Growing up, as you can imagine in Maine in the ‘90s, there was not much diversity,” says Sharma. “We were in the largest city in the state [Portland] as well, and still we were the only Indian kids in school. People used to think we were Native American.”

Van and his brother, Sumit, eventually left Maine, to pursue work in London and Australia, respectively. But the brothers found themselves back in Maine during the pandemic, pitching in at their parents’ one remaining restaurant, Bombay Mahal in Brunswick. As they helped run the mostly-takeout operation during COVID, supply chain problems created an issue: a lack of Indian beer to serve with customers’ butter chicken and biryani orders.

Van Sharma and Sumit Sharma
Proud Entrepreneurs from Indian-American Diaspora: Sumit Sharma (left), Van Sharma (right)

"We sought to create a beer that captures the essence of Indian cuisine," Van Sharma explains. "Rupee is more than just a beverage; it's a celebration of our cultural heritage. We aimed to craft a libation that harmonizes with the bold flavors of Indian cuisine.", says Sumit Sharma.

Rupee's inception was spurred by a glaring gap in the market - the absence of Indian beers that complemented the rich tapestry of Indian flavors. Traditional offerings fell short, with their mass-produced, highly carbonated profiles clashing with the nuances of Indian cuisine. Determined to fill this void, the Sharma brothers set out to create a smoother, more palatable alternative. A process that started early in the spring of 2020 ended with the release of Rupee Beer in October 2021. Originally meant to serve at the family’s restaurant, the beer is now distributed in 10 states, geared toward a growing Indian population in the United States, but also toward people who like pairing other Asian, African, or Caribbean food with something light and refreshing. Available in 16-ounce cans, Rupee graces the shelves of stores and finds its place in Indian and Thai restaurants across Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, with plans for further expansion in both production and distribution on the horizon. 

Their collaboration with Alan Pugsley, a luminary in the craft beer sphere, was pivotal in refining Rupee's flavor profile, culminating in an award-winning flagship lager.

Alan Pugsley
Alan Pugsley, who advised Van and Sumit in their journey to launch Rupee Beer

With a career spanning four decades, Alan Pugsley is a revered figure in the craft beer realm. Co-founding Portland's Shipyard Brewing Company in the 1990s and lending his expertise to over 100 brewery projects worldwide, his contributions are widely acknowledged. "Being British, he also possessed a profound understanding of Indian cuisine," Sharma remarked.

During a rendezvous with Pugsley in Portland, amidst his latest endeavor at Orange Bike Brewing, specializing in gluten-free beer, memories of Rupee's inception surfaced. "I thought it was a fantastic concept," he recalled, "especially since I have a deep appreciation for Indian cuisine."

In crafting Rupee's flagship offering, Pugsley and the Sharma family embarked on a flavorful journey, conducting taste tests with various Indian beers paired with dishes from their restaurant. This culminated in a meticulously balanced basmati rice lager, lauded with an award in 2021. The release of Rupee's second offering, a seasonal mango wheat ale, graced Fenway Park in August for India Day festivities.

As Rupee continues to carve its niche in the competitive craft beer landscape, it stands as a beacon of cultural celebration, uniting palates around the globe. The Sharma brothers' journey epitomizes the transformative power of entrepreneurship, where passion, innovation, and heritage converge to create a truly remarkable brew. Raise a glass to Rupee - a testament to the enduring legacy of tradition and the boundless possibilities of the human spirit.

"Rupee represents the culmination of our dreams and aspirations," Sumit Sharma reflects. "It's a testament to our journey and the values we hold dear", express the Sharma brothers.

In a world marked by division and discord, Rupee emerges as a symbol of unity and harmony, transcending borders and fostering a sense of kinship among beer enthusiasts worldwide. As the Rupee saga unfolds, one thing remains certain - its legacy will endure as a beacon of cultural celebration and entrepreneurial triumph.

The brothers have big plans, but bringing a new beer to market is a complex enterprise, with different laws in every state, different distributors, different systems. “It’s not one of those things where you can snap your fingers and overnight you’re in 50 states,” Vanit Sharma says. “It’s definitely going to test your patience.”

Overall, the Rupee experience is somewhat unconventional, but nonetheless exciting and inviting. It deviates from the anticipated ultra-crisp and invigorating lager, offering a beer with more weight and depth, and more suited to the bold flavors of evolving cuisine in America. 

Rupee Beer

Throughout history, America has been the home of daring entrepreneurs. Among the rising stars of the Indian-American diaspora, Van and Sumit craft an inspiring tale of entrepreneurship with Rupee Beer, introducing Indian culture and flavors to USA and to the World – one beer can at a time.



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