The delicious red rice that grows in Kerala, beloved by Malayalis around the world, has a new claim to fame. Komban, a craft beer brand in the United Kingdom, is being brewed with Palakkadan Matta rice.
Vivek Pillai, who is originally from Ernakulam, launched Komban in 2016. In the last three years, its popularity has grown. Vivek is currently settled in London, UK but has maintained his ties to Kerala. ‘Komban’ translates to majestic tusker in Malayalam, adding another link to the state.
“I own a south Indian restaurant serving mainly Kerala cuisine in the UK. I noticed that our customer base was predominantly British and that they enjoyed alcoholic beverages with their meals. Customers would always ask if we served any authentic beverages from Kerala. And after a lot of research, I found that there was a gap in the market for craft Indian beer This set the ball rolling towards the creation of Komban,” said Vivek, who was an investment banker before starting his own business.
In keeping with his customers’ request, he wanted to make something that was genuinely from Kerala. “Though I had a few ingredients in my mind, I wasn’t sure whether it would work with our recipe. After discussing with my team, it was decided that Palakkadan Matta rice would be the best ingredient,” he said.
The next step was naming the new beer, one that would signify the authenticity of the product.
“The credit goes to my wife, Sandhya. She is the one who came up with ‘Komban’ as she thought a tusker is a strong and royal animal that is synonymous with Kerala. A tusker is a symbol of power. This name would do justice to the beer we wanted to create, just as royal and majestic as the Komban. My brother, who also lives in the UK, is the one who designed the logo and label, and added the strap line, ‘God Of Beers’,” Vivek said.
Getting into the craft beer business in the UK is a complex process that involves strict rules and guidelines. But Vivek persevered through the long procedure to get his business running.
Before making beer with Palakkadan Matta, Vivek tried his hand at more standard kinds of Indian specialty beer. He created two varieties: Blonde and Premium Black.
“At first, it was only available in our restaurant. Our customers used to ask if it was available anywhere else as they would like to buy them in cases. That’s when we started to distribute to other Indian restaurants in London. We also did television and bus adverts. Gradually it started to pick up and demand increased. Hopefully, Komban will soon be available to international customers,” he said.
And though there are plenty of Indian restaurants in the UK, Vivek says that Komban is the only Indian craft beer variety that’s available.
“Komban is now very popular in the UK as well as around the globe. Thanks to social media, it has now become much easier for us to market Komban. Every day, we receive inquiries on its availability for local as well as international distribution. We are expanding but also looking for investors,” he said.
Vivek hopes to introduce Komban in India next year and is planning a big launch for his dream project.