The new brew: Hathi brings new flavour to local craft beer culture

Features, Food, Off The Vine

A new craft brewery in Abbotsford is emerging. Hathi Brewing (“elephant” in Hindi, pronounced hah-tee) currently has three varieties of beer, with more styles and flavours in the works. Founders Aman and Paul Sidhu are taking cultural cues from Abbotsford’s South Asian population to create an infusion of Indian tastes, craft beer, and community.

Hathi is working hard to become temporarily operational out of Ravens Brewing, while progressing towards its own facility. You can look forward to getting a taste of Hathi beer this summer.

Tell me about your background. Where does your passion for beer come from?

PS: I’ve always enjoyed good beer. I was that guy, back in the day, before the craft brew thing took off: drinking something different, always wanting to try something. For the rich history of beer, there’s so many different styles. Every mood that you’re in, you can basically have something else.

AS: It was just about trying something new, something different and really— it was good. When you look around, it’s just people sharing memories. But they’re sharing those memories over a glass of beer. Craft beer has built this culture and community sense around it, so I think that’s where it took off.

What sparked the idea for an actual brewery to happen?

AS: For us, it’s this niche that we saw: a lot of people are doing cool, funky, things with beer, but no one’s touched on that cultural piece. There’s this South Asian population in Canada, in BC, but no one’s done it yet and [we thought], “What can we do? How can we do it? What would it look like?”

PS: We started visiting a lot of the breweries that were opening a few years ago, including Field House, and everybody had their own way of expressing themselves. We’re young guys, how do we make our mark? How do we contribute? How do we communicate to the world around us who we are and what we want to be? Some people start a blog, some people start a YouTube channel. We decided, “Why not beer?”

“That no-fun city we grew up with is changing now.”

What makes Hathi unique?

AS: I think for us, our twist, it’s the Indian twist. One of the first beers we did was the India Session Ale. That goes back to the British. They hopped up their beers to store it better so it could last through travel. For us, that was a big piece of it. The Coriander Pale Ale—coriander is an ingredient used in a lot of Indian dishes. It’s a very common spice. Even the mangos that are used in our Mango Bango Hefeweizen are native to India. It’s very sweet. And for us, it’s to put that little twist on it. We’re Canadian but there’s that Indian twist to us. It’s the same thing to our beer.

PS: It was drawing on heritage. Field House here, you see it reflected in their beer names and whatnot, they draw upon their Dutch heritage and the farming heritage to influence their beer styles and influence the flavours that you taste in their beers.

Our thing is, you look at India, it’s such a populist country, it’s been around for thousands of years. You have so many influences, starting at Alexander the Great coming all the way along to the Mongols and into the British, Portuguese down south… Christian, Jews, Muslims, so you have this kaleidoscope of cultures and with that comes a kaleidoscope of flavours. How do we translate that into beer is our question. That’s what we want to do, that’s something that makes us unique. I think you’ll see some real funky stuff.

AS: That’s a good point that Paul has. You look at a lot of these new, kind of hip, Indian restaurants — it’s a fusion between east meets west, and we’re doing that with beer. We bring our background and history to it.

PS: We’re just adding what we grew up with.

Do you think the culture of Abbotsford’s shifting right now?

PS: It is shifting. Abbotsford, for the longest time, growing up, was known as the no-fun bible belt. That’s starting to shift now just due to demographics. It’s getting younger, people are moving out from the city. They can’t afford [it], or they know for the price they’re paying for their two-bedroom condo in Yaletown, they can afford a 5,000-square foot house on a third of an acre out here and raise a family. You’re getting that influence from the city, metro Vancouver coming out, and just in general most of the people here, most of the ownership of the local breweries… a lot of us grew up here. A lot of us grew up in Abbotsford. We’ve seen that change. Some of us might be a little older than others but we’re making the changes we want to see. Not only for ourselves but for future generations.

AS: That’s a huge point to make. When I graduated from Mouat everybody couldn’t wait to get out of Abbotsford. Me, coming from a small town of 20,000 people, I was like, “no, this is big enough for me; I’m close enough to Vancouver but far enough.” I like that [about] Abbotsford, that we’re big enough but we’re small enough at the same time. I can run to the grocery store or wherever, go to the farmers’ market on the weekend, I can run into somebody I know who I haven’t seen in however many years. You can’t get that in Vancouver.

For us, that no-fun city we grew up with is changing now. There’re things to do in Abbotsford. People from the city now come out to Abbotsford to explore things, like the Tulip Festival, The Hop Fest, [and] Beer-B-Q, to come try out all the breweries here in Abbotsford. There’s some great things happening in Abbotsford and it’s not just beer — it’s culture related.

It seems like all the breweries in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley are community-minded. Do you share the same kind of identity?

PS: Without a doubt. We’ve both been involved in the community at various levels over the years. Going forward we’re contributing to that. We will be contract brewing out of Ravens Brewing, and they’re something else showing community. Ravens, instead of looking at us as potential competitors, are allowing us to enter their space, helping us out, getting us off the ground until we can establish our own space. That’s an important thing about the brewery collective in Abbotsford: everybody helps each other out.

AS: Any success that another brewery has, it’s not competition. Their success is our success. The more people that come and try craft beer or try something in Abbotsford… they might come out here for a drink and then find a restaurant that they really enjoy or find something else to go explore. There’s a lot of cool things to do here and I think it ties in nicely as a post-work thing or a post-trip out to the valley thing, and there’s a lot of community in the beer community.

Ultimately, you’re building the market up.

PS: We are. We’re not competing necessarily with each other. People go to Field House and they like the beer, but maybe they’re on a brewery tour and they want to see everybody else. On the flipside, somebody comes down here and they have a couple nice beers and they want to get some food. They’ll visit some of the new, local, restaurants that are opening and aren’t big chains. It’s all about supporting local at the end of the day.

How long have you been brewing as Hathi?

PS: We incorporated a little over a year ago. We were initially doing some test batching out of another local brewery over at Old Abbey [Ales]. Just very small batches to develop flavour profiles and get to a couple of festivals last year, seeing if there was a market for what we wanted to do. There clearly proved to be a market really quickly.

That’s when we decided, in terms of Old Abbey, it just couldn’t provide the scalability we needed to get to a commercial amount of beer that we could sustain some sort of business on. So, we decided to step back over the winter months and ordered some porter tanks. We got them in, now we’re at Ravens under a contract arrangement. We’ll be able to produce, approximately, about 8,000 litres a month in terms of total liquid. Depending on how we divvy that up between bottles, kegs, everything else, we’re able to produce quite a bit of beer. That’ll allow us to distribute to the masses and get what we want to contribute out there.

AS: When we released our India Session Ale, on the bottle Paul and I put our names on there. We’re proud of this and we’re proud of it even going down the drain because we did it right until we got it right. Now, going forward, there’s going to be a lot more capacity for us to start brewing.

Do you guys come up with the recipe yourselves or do you have a brewer?

PS: We come up with the ideas ourselves. We go through the basics of what we’re thinking of for a recipe between us and then we rely on the brewers and their background knowledge of brewing. Our knowledge is rather limited at best, so we go to them with our idea, and then go back and forth with what we [should] do, how we do it, and we try a small test batch of a couple hundred litres and see how that turns out. If it turns out completely horrible it goes down the drain but that’s the way it is. Once we’re at that point we let the brewers go over from there. They scale it up to a large volume and then it’ll hit the market.

What does the future of Hathi hold and what kind of timeline are you guys looking at?

PS: Literally today I stood up the tanks, two fermentation tanks and our bright tank right inside Ravens space. That’s a couple weeks out for testing. As soon as they’re operational we’ll be brewing on that system. We’ll be doing somewhere about 8,000 litres a month. That’s probably going to persist through the summer.

Most of the locations we’re looking at, their availability ranges from this coming October into the winter months. Depending on where we’re at, and what location becomes available, [that’s a] decisions we make then. We’ll lease or purchase, then we’ll keep looking at ordering the rest of our equipment. Landing that: renovations, building up a tasting room and everything else. We’re hoping by late next spring, early next summer, we should be able to have a full-on tasting room, our own brewery operational.

But this is all dependent on other timelines, government approvals, so on and so forth, equipment build times. It may be longer than that. If it is, we’ll still be producing through Ravens. In the meantime, it’ll still be our beer. If you really enjoy something, you’ll still be able to get it. The sooner we can get it operational, we will. It’s something that we’re looking forward to, as well.

Would you guys prefer to be on tap or sell it through cans or bottles?

PS: We’ll be focusing mainly on bomber bottling in the beginning. We may do a canning run, we may not. We’re looking at the options of going into the smaller bottles, the standard size, just to allow easier access to restaurant markets and whatnot so we can be at more locations.

Our focus, in terms of tap base, is going to be on specific taps in bars and restaurants that specialize in craft beer and are known as craft beer locations just due to our relative limited production at this time. We can distribute over a wider umbrella and to more people if we focus more on bottle sales.