While Texas ranks forty-seventh in breweries per capita in the U.S. as of 2022, there is one surprising phenomenon for which the state’s beer scene is becoming known: having the most South Asian–owned breweries in the country. Misfit Outpost in Cypress, Roughhouse Brewing in San Marcos, and Windmills in the Colony reflect the growing diversity of the state’s population.
Texas is home to 1.7 million Asian Americans, and has the second-largest Indian population in the U.S. In the last decade, Dallas–Fort Worth has had the highest Asian-population (more than half with Indian heritage) growth rate of any major U.S. metropolitan area.
With more diverse populations comes a more dynamic food and drink scene. “Every craft brewer is looking for their niche, so in showcasing South Asians’ flavor profiles, there is an opportunity for us to do something different,” says Ajay Nagarajan, CEO of Windmills, a brewpub in the Colony, a Dallas suburb.
He collaborated on a beer with Sarah Nadeem, brewer and co-owner of Misfit Outpost, and Naz Pasternak, co-owner and events and taproom manager at Roughhouse Brewing, this summer as part of the South Asian Beer Club project. This was the first all–South Asian collaboration beer in the U.S., launched in collaboration with the Chicago Brewseum.
Their Subcontinental Jackfruit Lager, which was available on limited release in each brewery’s taproom, relied on the tropical tree fruit, which has flavors of pineapple, mango, and unripe banana.
After discussing potential flavors, the group chose jackfruit because of its resonance across the subcontinent, where it is popular in dishes ranging from curries to desserts, and is also used in certain Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies. It is also the national fruit of Bangladesh and the state fruit of the Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
“I felt that by taking part in this collab we let people know that we do have knowledge about beer and brewing and this will hopefully invite more South Asians to craft beer,” Nadeem says.
During the nineteenth century, beer culture in India was limited to British colonists. But after Independence in 1947, beer drinking became more common, leading to the relaunches of major brands like Cobra, Lion, and Kingfisher. Over the last decade, the craft beer scene in India has taken off significantly, with nearly three hundred breweries currently operating.
Although the popularity of brewing has yet to be widely adopted by the South Asian diaspora in the U.S., these three Texans are leading the way.
Nadeem first got into craft beer more than a decade ago, when she began to explore the scene in Houston, enjoying beers from Saint Arnold, Lone Pint, and Karbach. A data analyst, Nadeem bought her first homebrew kit in 2019 and began brewing as a hobby after meeting her partner and Misfit co-owner Juan Sanchez, who was already seasoned in the craft.
Nadeem quickly found a passion for brewing and made the most of the pandemic by honing her skills and trying out different styles. She and Sanchez launched Misfit Outpost in Cypress in 2021.
“I get to incorporate some of my culture in our beer recipes, such as our Black Sunshine stout, with toasted coconut, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and show our community that we have some flavors that go well with certain styles of beers,” she says. “Hopefully this educates our guests more about South Asian culture and that we do exist in the beer community.”
However, Nadeem acknowledges cultural challenges may prevent South Asians, particularly South Asian women, from getting into craft beer. “A lot of desis that I know feel like I should be married with kids and have a different career path,” she says. Although Nadeem sometimes keeps her career secret from certain family members and friends who may not approve, she hopes beer culture becomes more normalized in South Asian communities.
For Naz Pasternak, it was actually family that drew her to the beer industry. Her husband Andy started Roughhouse in 2019 along with his brother Davy and sister-in-law Alex. Previously a physical therapist, Pasternak didn’t need much convincing to join the family business in 2022.
Although she didn’t get involved in the brewing process, she was keen to make Roughhouse a welcoming environment. “Creating a sense of community and gathering with friends and family are very important in South Asian culture,” Pasternak says.
In her role as events and taproom manager, Pasternak has led initiatives such as hosting a drag show and raffle to raise emergency support money for young adults in the local LGBTQ community, and donating a portion of sales from a special release small-batch beer to San Marcos’s Calaboose African American History Museum.
“I look forward to the social and communal aspects of the brewery—meeting new people, asking about their stories, and making them feel welcome—as if Roughhouse was an extension of our home,” she says.
Ajay Nagarajan brings his South Asian culture to his brewpub more literally. Windmills serves Indian food, like lamb seekh kabob and parmesan and green-chili kulcha, alongside a selection of ales.
Nagarajan bought his first homebrew kit from 7-Eleven back in 2008. By Texas standards, he was an early craft-beer adopter, seeking out bars in Addison, Dallas, and Plano—and traveling to Austin, Houston, and San Antonio—to try as many varieties as possible.
“At that time in the DFW area there were just two breweries, Franconia in McKinney and a small brewpub called the Covey in Fort Worth,” he says. “These were my inspiration when I started brewing.” Nagarajan’s love of craft beer led him to leave his tech career and open the original Windmills in Bangalore, India, in 2012—only the third brewpub in a city that now boasts more than sixty.
Nine years later, Nagarajan brought Windmills stateside, but faced some challenges establishing the brand. “The fact that people judge you for being South Asian first and not for the quality of beer you produce is often a letdown,” he says, “And South Asia is not known for craft beer, so it is a challenge to get people in sometimes.”
But those in doubt should take heed of Windmills’ gold medal win at the 2022 Great American Beer Festival for its Sonidero Amber Lager, a Mexican-style lager with notes of toasted corn and a light, honeyed malt.
“By tapping into South Asian flavor profiles,” Nagarajan says, “we have the potential to grow brands that can become household names in the beer community.”
NOTE: The author of this story is the founder of South Asian Beer Club.