When Bina and Raj Sharma began serving Indian food to Mainers at Brunswick’s Bombay Mahal in the early 1990s, they had to drive to Boston or New York to get the ingredients. Suppliers simply didn’t view Maine as a viable market. Indian-made beers, like Taj Mahal or Kingfisher, were equally difficult to wrangle. Today, the Sharmas no longer have to endure these long trips to make their dishes, and they can get beer specially designed to complement their meals in state, thanks to their sons, Van and Sumit.

Working with Maine brewing legend Alan Pugsley, the younger Sharmas crafted Rupee, a beer specifically designed to pair with the spicy, hearty cuisine of India. It’s a helles lager made with malted barley, rice and maize (typical of Indian beers), and three types of hops – Hallertau, Saaz and Saphir. Golden-colored and medium-bodied, its aromas are fruity and earthy. The sweetness of the malt and corn is tamed by the hops, providing a balanced finish. Rupee’s full mouthfeel distinguishes it from more effervescent, mass-produced Indian lagers. And at 4.75% ABV, it is made for “easy quaffing,” as Pugsley puts it.

Pugsley is British by birth, and thus is no stranger to Indian food. When Van and Sumit were looking for a brewer to help them develop their beer, they connected with Pugsley, who lives down the street from their parents’ home.

“What Tex-Mex is to America, Indian cuisine is to the United Kingdom,” Van Sharma notes, and so a British brewer would know “what we were trying to do with beer and curry.” Pugsley is also, as Van puts it, a “legend in the beer arena.” Indeed, he was there at the very advent of craft beer in Maine as the original head brewer at D.L. Geary Brewing Company (which served its first beer 35 years ago, almost to the day), and soon thereafter was a co-founder of Shipyard Brewing Co.

Pugsley joined the Sharmas at the family restaurant, where they experimented with a range of beers and Indian foods of different styles and spice levels. After nailing down the recipe, they went looking for a partner to contract-brew the beer in Maine. This proved challenging, however, because of the pandemic. Ultimately, they found a willing partner in Boston’s Dorchester Brewing, which contract-brews extensively.

The Sharmas named their beer after the currency of India because it “helped tell the story we wanted to tell,” aligned with “the vision we had for creating an Indian beverage brand, which is part of our culture.”


Vikash Sharma, the older brother of Rupee creators Van and Sumit Sharma, enjoys their beer with his meal at a restaurant in New York City. Photo courtesy of Rupee Beer

They have global ambitions for their beer, befitting the family’s global history. The brothers remember moments from their childhood, visiting their Punjabi grandfather, Pritam-Dass Sharma, part of a four-generation farming family in India and a homebrewer of rice- and maize-based alcohol. Their father, Raj, grew up in India; their mother, Bina, hails from Kenya. After periods living in Cologne and London, they moved to Maine after visiting a family friend here, having been inspired by “the natural beauty and also warmth of the people,” according to Van.

But growing up in Maine in the 1990s wasn’t always easy for the brothers. “Being the only Indian kids in school had its ups and downs,” he recalls. “People had trouble pronouncing our names and confused us for being Native American Indians, as you learn about local Indian tribes in elementary school during that age.” The fact that “our family owned Indian restaurants made us stick out even more.”

The brothers attended college in Boston. Sumit, now 28, then moved to Colombia, where he taught English, before relocating to Melbourne, Australia, at the onset of the COVID pandemic. Van, 31, lived in the United Kingdom for nearly eight years, working in sales and with a London-based restaurant and hotel startup. Their parents had been hoping they’d return to Maine, and during the pandemic, the brothers obliged. Van remembers helping his brother book one of the last flights from Australia before its borders were closed.

Once back in Maine, the brothers had the opportunity to pursue this idea – tailoring a beer specifically for Indian cuisine – that they had been harboring for some time. They returned to a state that was more racially diverse than the one they had left and awash in craft beer (though that racial diversity is barely evidenced in the craft beer world, particularly in Maine).

With age, they also had acquired a different perspective of their own history. “As you get older,” Van observes, “you become way more proud of your origin story.”

For the Sharmas, it’s a story that is at once global and local, anchored in Maine, where as of this fall you can find Rupee at beverage stores and Indian restaurants all over. And like any beer, Rupee expresses an invisible historical geography, stretching across space and time: a beer inspired by German brewing tradition and Punjabi homebrew, devised with a British-Mainer, and designed for Indian food.

Ben Lisle is an assistant professor of American Studies at Colby College. He lives among the breweries in Portland’s East Bayside, where he writes about cultural history, urban geography, and craft beer culture. Reach him on Twitter at @bdlisle.

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