It’s hard to call today’s craft beer scene lacking, especially in Maine. Everywhere you turn there’s some kind of craft or local beer staring you in the face.
But brothers Van and Sumit Sharma looked at that field, saw a gap, and set out to fill it.
The brothers are co-founders of Rupee Beer, an Indian-style lager they crafted during the pandemic. Van Sharma said the family moved from London to Maine in the 1990s and noticed right away the state was not very diverse.
“We were the two token Indian kids in North Deering,” he said, adding that not much has changed in 2022.
Growing up, the Sharma brothers became well versed in the Indian restaurant business: their family owns Bombay Mahal in Brunswick and previously owned Tandoor in Portland’s Old Port.
The brothers worked in the family business and saw firsthand just how difficult it was to get Indian ingredients, from spices and produce to beer. Their parents would have to drive out of state for supplies.
Flash forward to today, and Sharma said there’s more of an appetite for that market in Maine and beyond.
He was in London and Sumit was in Australia when the pandemic began, which led the brothers back to Portland. They realized how the landscape had changed, and their attention turned to beer – especially as the pandemic made imports like Indian beer harder to find.
Another benefit for the brothers was also in North Deering: they knew Alan Pugsley, the co-founder of Shipyard Brewery, who Sharma called the “Johnny Appleseed” of brewing.
With Pugsley’s help, the brothers took a year to do test brews, figure out what ingredients they wanted, and finally settle on a product: Rupee Beer, which Sharma described as a refreshing and smooth lager, light on the carbonation and brewed to pair well with traditional Indian food.
“People have been appreciative of the fact we were going with a lager,” Sumit Sharma said. “The market is flooded with heavier, hoppier, bitter IPAs. They like that the beer is something different from the typical IPA, and it’s easier to drink.”
Rupee is currently brewed in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Van Sharma said he and Sumit wanted to brew in Maine, but there was too much uncertainty, both because of the pandemic and because other potential partners were unsure about Rupee’s long-term viability.
“We would love to do something to really bring it back to Maine,” Sharma said.
Despite that, there is no shortage of places to find Rupee in Maine. In addition to serving Rupee at their family restaurants, the beer is sold at more than 50 locations around the state, including Veranda Asian Market, Hilltop Superette, Bow Street Beverage, Back Bay Superette, Bier Cellar, Hi Bombay, Monte’s Fine Foods, India Palace, Old Port Spirits & Cigars, and Portland Food Co-op in Portland, plus others in Westbrook, Scarborough, and Freeport.
Sharma said a major component in creating Rupee was viewing the market through a lens of diversity. He said they wanted to do something that balanced their heritage with their American identities.
“This is a business that across the United States is one of the least diverse industries across the board,” Sharma said. They weren’t “trying to reinvent the wheel,” but were “trying to solve a problem and do that through beer.”
“We don’t look like what another brewer might look like,” he said. “We really want to make sure we’re able to tell that story. We want to use Rupee to talk about our culture and our heritage and the food that comes with it.”
Their goal is to expand Rupee to states that have larger Indian communities, such as New Jersey, Texas, and California, and into as many Indian restaurants as possible.
While Rupee pairs well with traditional flavors of Indian food, the brothers said they brew with the average person in mind. Not just someone who is eating Indian food, but also someone who isn’t normally a beer fan.
“We wanted it to be super silky and super smooth, and pair with robust cuisine,” Sharma said. “I have friends who don’t drink beer but like (Rupee) because it’s so light and refreshing. So it’s hitting different demographics.”