- Through his ‘Other Desi Beer Company,’ the Indian American is spiking the brew with a touch of India.
In mood for a light, refreshing IPA with notes of cantaloupe and tropical fruit? Try ‘Dishoom!’ Or how about ‘Jalebae,’ a double IPA with notes of citrus, tangerine and pepper? Feel like a New England Style IPA instead? Hoppy Hathi comes to the rescue with dry notes of cantaloupe or Lychee.
These unusual flavor combinations are the brainchild of Ravi Patel, owner of the Other Desi Beer Company. With the use of desi imagery and ingredients, the 32-year-old Connecticut native has been using names and ingredients inspired by India, to introduce craft beer drinkers to the tastes and flavors he grew up with.
Patel was first introduced to the world of alcohol at The Grog Shop of Meriden, a liquor store his parents owned. “I grew up working there,” Patel recalls. And while he stacked shelves with all kinds of premium liquor and beers, he was always more interested in how vodka, gin, and cognac was made and how beer was made as well. And eventually when he left home for university (Eastern Connecticut State University), there was a brewery (Willimantic Brewing Company) down the street.
And that’s where Patel caught the beer-brewing bug. “I have always loved craft beer, we’ve always had craft beer throughout the liquor store,” he says. “I was blown away at what they were doing right at the back, behind the brew club, and then I wanted to do the same thing. I figured I can blend the two together and make some unique beers.”
In 2018, he launched his brand, Other Desi Beer Co., which is based at Thimble Island Brewery in Branford. “I am a little different in how my business works,” Patel tells American Kahani. “I contract-brew; I use another brewery to make and sell my beer, as I don’t have a brick or mortar place right,” he explains.
Patel did a “little bit of research” to figure out what kind of hops pair really well and what kind of flavors to introduce in the beer. “Whenever I try to implement more desi flavors like the chai stout we had made or the guava sour that I had made as well so basically I either try to pair a theme with the beer name and the artwork, or I try to make a theme plus a flavor with a name as well, if I can introduce it,” he says.
The company’s first beer, which hit stores in 2019, was Hoppy Hathi, an IPA made with Cashmere, Amarillo and Saphir hops, with cantaloupe and lychee flavors. It was followed by Bangin’ Bhangra, a pale ale with Amarillo and Centennial hops, grapefruit rind and citrus.Currently, the company is manufacturing two beers – Jellebae and Dishoom! “Both are doing really well,” Patel notes.
But it’s not always easy. “The problem I see out here is that a lot of flavors that I want to implement in my beers are hard to get,” he explains. “Spices from India are very expensive and if you want to get some exotic fruit it’ll also be very expensive or impossible to get here in America, so I have to be very particular in what I make,” he says. But at the same time, he is able to use the theme and maybe use hops that might replicate the flavors pretty close to what somewhat reminds me of a certain Indian food or fruit.” One such ingredient on Patel’s wish list is chikoo. “I would love to use that in a beer if I could. But try to get that fruit here and in the processed way that I need to be using it is virtually impossible. So if I’m ever able to get a chance to use that fruit in a beer, I would love to.”
And Patel is particular about not just what goes inside the can. He’s equally thorough and detailed in designing the exterior of the can, including the signature elephant design. Each can of beer provides the pronunciation and definition of the name of the liquid inside. And each can tells a story. “I always use an English word with a Hindi or Gujarati word on the labels, to teach people a little bit of the language and culture,” Patel says. The labels of Patel’s beer cans were designed by Jessica Batista of Hartford. “I think of it as a way to really push that idea of it being a South Asian American-owned business, it actually amplifies what that word [on the can] is, that it’s not just a work, maybe they’ll search what the name means,” he says. “I am hoping to bring a little awareness, I am hoping to get more people to interact because of it and not just drink the beer.”
Dishoom! is named after the sound in old Bollywood movies to show when one character punches another, while Jalebae combines two words, the Indian sweet Jalebi and bae, the slang term for a significant other. Speciality beers like High Chai Stout and 3 Ranis have a more personal connection to Patel. While the former is an Imperial stout brewed with chai and Parle-G biscuits – treats reminiscent of Patel’s childhood – 3 Ranis, a pink guava hibiscus sour, pays tribute to his mother and two aunts.
When it comes to food pairing, Patel says his beers go will with Indian food. “I make sure that my beers are pretty fruity and dry,” he says. Take Dishoom! for example – that has flavors of melon and coconut and mango – and at least for me personally – I love it when you have spicy curries – that pairs really well because of the dry fruitiness you are getting from it – it ends up cleansing your palate a bit.”
The name of the company has a personal connection as well. It stemmed from a question: What kind of an Indian he was. Recalling the 2010 incident, Patel says: “I was with friends on the train coming back from a Yankees game. Somebody on the train asked the question, what kind of Indian are you, and he put four fingers behind his head like feathers, and then a finger on his forehead like a dot. I was astonished he was asking that question. It was just weird and awkward. He was being racist but in the most joking way possible,” Patel says. “I figured it would take that name and turn it into something positive rather than negative. Yes, I am the Other Desi. I am South Asian,” he said.
Over the years, Other Desi has developed another connotation to Patel – to dismantle the stereotypes that exist within the South Asian community. South Asians often are stereotyped as belonging in certain professions: owning gas stations and package stores, becoming doctors and lawyers. Patel says his company’s names fellow South Asians to follow their dreams. “We’re more than that. We also have other interests. You can be in this industry as well,” he said. “If there is something you want to do, I get it, your parents may not want you to do that, but if you want to go for something, go for it.”
Patel is currently bouncing back from the coronavirus pandemic, which, like everyone else, hit him hard. There were no brew festivals to get people to try his beer. Many package stores closed to foot traffic, operating only on pre-ordering and takeout. “When the pandemic happened, a lot of places shut down or only did takeout and pickup and that caused a lot of problems for me because I was hoping that people would go into the liquor store and find my beer,” he says. “It’s great when someone goes into a liquor store to look around. They discover something new, maybe my beer, or the owner says, why don’t you try this beer. You can’t do that with curbside pickup and online ordering,” he adds. “That made it difficult to grow as a company. It put a drag on my business.”
So how does this young entrepreneur stay relevant in these uncertain times, and survive in this business and make his own identity? “I think being able to partner with a larger brewery to brew my beer has been super beneficial for me, at least right now,” he answers. While a lot of people ask him why he didn’t open a brewery right away, he says that this arrangement with Thimble Island Brewery has allowed his business “to expand all through Connecticut rather quickly, and implement my beers at the stores and that’s something a lot of breweries don’t have the option to do.”
Another thing that keeps him relevant is his niche product. There are currently ten or fewer South Asian brewery owners in the United States, Patel notes. But in New England, The Other Desi Brewing Company is the only South Asian-owned brewery. “There’s a lot of South Asians in Chicago and in Texas right now brewing beer,” he says. “It’s fantastic. … But not in New England. And that’s something super special as well.”
And the fact that I am giving away a percentage of his profits to charity, helps in keeping him relevant as well. Inspired by his parents, Patel has been using his beer to give back to the community. “My parents have been generous people, they have been giving back to the community whenever possible.” And that always was a big thing for him, how they help out their community and the community where their store is located. So when he started the company, he wanted to make sure that he gave back as well. “I very much always believe that if you are a business and if you can donate a little bit to something, you should try doing it.” Throughout last year, during COVID, Patel was donating to Breast Cancer Alliance, the charity he had chosen before the pandemic hit. He was also selling masks at one point and for every mask that was purchased, he was giving a dollar back to COVID Relief Fund. This year, he is giving to the Connecticut Hospitality Education Foundation (CHEF), the nonprofit philanthropic arm of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, which operates to attract, develop and retain career-oriented restaurant professionals.
With expansion on the horizon, Patel has visions on his own brewery or a tap room. But until Patel’s desi brews are available nationwide, beer connoisseurs have to trek to Connecticut or Western Pennsylvania to chug a cold one. Cheers to that!