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Updated: May 30, 2022 On the Record

On the Record: Brothers who grew up in Maine brew further growth for Rupee Beer

PHOTO / JIM NEUGER Sumit Sharma, left, and his brother Van developed Rupee Beer, an Indian-style lager, to pair with the curry dishes they grew up with. They are shown here at their family’s Indian restaurant, Bombay Mahal, in Brunswick

Brothers Sumit and Van Sharma, who grew up in Portland in the 1990s, returned to Maine during the pandemic from London and Australia to work at Bombay Mahal, their family’s Indian restaurant in Brunswick. With help from Shipyard Brewing Co. co-founder Alan Pugsley, they launched an Indian-style lager called Rupee Beer in October 2021. It’s brewed in Boston and distributed in a growing number of states. Mainebiz caught up with the duo, currently based in Portland, Boston and New York City, to find out more.

Mainebiz: What inspired you to start an Indian beer brand?

Sumit Sharma: We’ve always liked beer. Anywhere we travel, we always try the local national beers available. Back in the ‘90s, Indian beer companies never wanted to distribute and sell in a place like Maine as they did not make any money on their deliveries this far north. Maine was not an attractive market, so we often drove to Boston and New York City to get beer. Today things have changed. But that problem we saw growing up, paired with a massive global supply chain crisis during COVID, hindered the availability of imports of several Asian beers to America. So we just took the leap to create our own.

MB: How did you decide on the name Rupee?

Van Sharma: We polled over 500 people around the world — friends and family folks in the food-and-beverage industry. From that it really came down to working with our legal counsel on what was possible. We ultimately decided on Rupee [the currency of India and seven other countries] as we felt it paid homage to our culture and entrepreneurial spirit.

MB: How did you connect with Alan Pugsley and what does he bring to the equation?

SS: We spoke to lots of master beer brewers across the world and funnily enough Alan was down the road from our parents’ house in Portland, and is a British expat who understood the iconic curry culture that Great Britain is famous for, and overall it made sense to partner with him. He is our consultant and has helped us a great deal in crafting the best possible recipe using the best possible ingredients.

MB: With whom is Rupee Beer competing?

VS: We’re up against your standard Indian import beers which have been on the market for years, but also an absence of numerous craft breweries from all around the United States.

MB: Where is Rupee Beer distributed?

SS: We are available statewide in Maine across over 60 liquor stores, restaurants, bars, specialty and co-op stores. We are also available across New Jersey and Massachusetts with more states launching soon.

MB: How hard is it to break into a competitive and crowded market like Maine, and an industry that’s not very diverse?

VS: The beer space sure isn’t lacking in available options, especially like a place in Maine. It’s a lot of hard work and a highly regulated industry to operate in and find your way around. We’ve had to upskill our knowledge tremendously as we maneuver this world. The fact of the matter is the craft brewing space across Maine and America continues to be one of the least diverse industries. Every day we see this, which is why it’s super important for us to wake up every day and be the best possible faces we can to represent our heritage and culture as well as the Maine connection, which has made this possible.

MB: What would prompt you to bring production from Massachusetts to Maine?

SS: We would love to produce more in Maine if we could. We tried very hard when we were starting out. However, we just kept getting a ‘No’ across the board with everyone we spoke to — thus ended up in Boston. Let us know if anyone in Maine is interested.

MB: What’s next for the business?

VS: Global expansion. We are grateful that we are able to scale state by state and continue to launch in new regions every few months. Stay tuned.

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