In March 2018, an Indian chief named Navjot Arora was invited to James Beard House. If you’ve heard of Chef Navjot, it’s because he’s been in charge of many popular restaurants, including Chutney Masala Bistro in Irvington, New York. Although Chef Najot accepted the invitation to the Beard House, he did not go alone. He invited Suhel Jagtiani, co-founder of 1947 Beer, to join him.
Jagtiani represents a different type of brewery owner – not the bearded, flannel white man who has become the industry clichÃ©, but an Indian man who knows his roots. When he helped at the 1947 launch with co-founder Nirav Vyas and their partners, he did so with a strong sense of pride in his heritage. Almost nine years later, the brand still encourages those who consume it to know their roots.
While Jagtiani’s March 2018 trip to the Beard House is his first, it is not his last. In the past year and a half he has been asked to pour his proceeds to the James Beard House five more times.
Kenny Gould: Are you from New York?
Suhel Jagtiani: I was born, raised and raised in New York City. My parents raised me to be a very proud American Indian. Even though we have assimilated to American citizenship, I am very, very, very connected to my roots. I am empowered by my culture.
KG: And how did you come to create a brand of beer?
SJ: For 23 years, I have been a professional DJ for luxury events around the world. My partners in my brand were friends that I met through this tour. We were sitting down one day and we were like, “Why can we go out for a Japanese meal and have a Sapporo?” Why can you choose Italian and taste a Peroni? Why can we have Mexican and have Modelo or Dos Equis? The Indian beers that were availableâ¦ we really felt that there was nothing that embodied the experience of going out for an Indian meal, let alone something that celebrated the culture. So we said, âLet’s do something that we can be proud of. “
KG: Did any of you have any background in beer?
SJ: We all loved beer. We had no formal brewing experience; it is our passion to bring something exciting and innovative to the market that has motivated us. You have to remember, that was in 2005, and the depth of knowledge that was available then was not what it is now. From 2005 to 2008, from concept to finalizing the taste profile and obtaining a label, we learned so much.
KG: So you made this beer without any experience in the industry and presented it to the public. How was it ?
SJ: We didn’t have a launch event. Our first try, we made about 500 cases of beer. The “event” was really more of an announcement on our personal Facebook pages and sending emails to all of our address books. I have come across a lot of restaurants. But at the time, I was organizing and hosting events, and thought it would be a great place to start beer. There were a ton of South Asian networking events, South Asian speed dating events. This is what we did to disseminate the product locally.
KG: You have created your own market.
SJ: Thanks to my resources, I booked a nightclub from 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., then we invited everyone from our networks. We had a promotion company that was looking to organize events in partnership with us. Based on our collective resources and the brand of the venue, we filled the room with 400 people. I would be the DJ and we would have 1947 at the event. The deal we worked with with the venue was that for these events they would only serve 1947. If someone came to the bar and wanted a Heineken, they had to get a 1947 or move on to a cocktail party.
SJ: We also had a photo gallery on our website. People would love to have their picture taken and then see them on our site. Every time we got someone’s photo we would give them a card and tell them to come 1947beer.com. We were driving traffic to our website while promoting and branding our beer.
KG: And how much are you producing today, almost nine years later?
SJ: We are brewing at full capacity every month, which is about 2,000 cases. We could brew more, but when you mass produce something, I feel like the quality goes down. Our philosophy and motto is that we want to brew in smaller quantities but brew often, and this way our accounts always have fresh beer. We are currently opening a 2nd and 3rd production point to meet the demands of the states that we are adding.
KG: Has your beer ever crossed India?
SJ: We had 2 offers to go to India in the first 6 months we were available in the US market. We have people who come to visit us all the time and tell us how well the brand would be doing in India.
KG: So you are a typically Indian brand, but you brew in the United States.
SJ: Exactly. I once was talking to an Indian chief here in the United States. He said, âWere you born here? Are you Indian? Are you proud? I cook Indian food in my kitchen and I live here so you can make Indian beer here too. “
KG: Are you specifically targeting Indian restaurants? Or do you want your beer to be enjoyed everywhere?
SJ: It’s really interesting. We didn’t give the brand a very ethnic name. We said, “Let’s leave it open and get cross-cultural appeal.” I mean, how many Italian restaurants have you been to with a Corona on the menu? Ultimately, if someone wants to drink a beer, it doesn’t matter where the beer comes from and what it’s about. It should matter if it’s a good beer and people want to drink it. So now we have entered quite a few well known bars. For example, we come from in the restaurants of Chef Marc Forgione.
KG: It’s a beer for everyone, but it’s steeped in Indian culture.
SJ: It is something that everyone can relate to. If you look at 1947, it’s the year of India’s independence. But for New Yorkers, this is the year the Yankees won the World Series. If you look at fashion, Christian Dior was founded in 1947. Ferrari was founded in 1947.
-Interview edited for clarity and brevity.