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Meet Kanika Sirikumarkul and Pulkit Gaindhar, the entrepreneur couple bringing Belgium’s hopping beer scene to Thailand

by Aiden

It’s ale in a day’s work for them.

By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales

I’ve always felt that there are few things that can level the playing field and bring people from all walks of life together more than sharing a beer. Kanika Sirikumarkul and Pulkit Gaindhar, power couple and entrepreneurs in their 20s, can attest to the power of a good draught – their love of Belgian beer not only brought them together as a couple, but as business partners who are bringing the artisanal Belgian beer scene to Thailand through founding Loka Brew Works. “As coincidental as it may sound, we met in a bar in Brussels!” they tell me with a laugh when I ask about their meet cute. “We really enjoyed the beer scene there and started sharing our respective stories with each other. Soon, numerous visits to hidden gems of Belgium led to inquisitively exploring and indulging in thousands of varieties of beer brands among various styles in Europe. We were also fascinated with the idea of brewing beer…let’s just say it was mad science in the pursuit of great beer!” With a stout business sense and bottomless passion, the rest, as they say, was history.

Despite their varied personal and professional backgrounds, both Kanika and Pulkit were determined to bring their breadth of experience to the artisanal beer scene. Kanika, who was born and bred in Bangkok before she pursued her MA in International Development and Political Economy in Brussels, began her professional journey as an EU public affairs consultant in Belgium before moving to entrepreneurship. Pulkit, meanwhile, was born in Delhi but lived, studied, and worked in different parts of the world, spanning Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and Europe, and is now a performance engineer for Toyota and Lexus cars, working at the R&D centre based in Brussels, Belgium. “Our respective associations with Art (Kanika) and Science (Pulkit) led us to dive deep into why Belgian Beer has such a strong stand on the global map,” they tell me. “After all, an artisanal beer is part science and part art.”

With this in mind, and with their deep appreciation for Belgium’s beer culture, one that is “multi-layered and even recognised as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ by UNESCO,” Kanika and Pulkit decided to bring this culture to Thailand, to help establish a connection to their roots in Asia. They sought out “the legacy of Belgian Brewers to lend us a hand in sharing their knowledge, expertise, and craftsmanship,” and came up with “the most suited recipes that we believed Thailand would love!” Selling only beers that they love wholeheartedly, they’d soon perfected their recipes and Loka Brew Works was born. They spoke to Masala further about their business and their passion for Thailand’s thriving beer scene.

Tell us about Loka Brew Works’ concept and what makes it unique.

The Word ‘loka’ is a Sanskrit word that in essence translates to ‘a universe or any division of it,’ commonly referred to as ‘world’. ‘Lok’ is also a Thai word that is derived from the same Sanskrit word. As a company, we take a global approach, and while the brand may not be equated with a specific world, it aims to create a cultural gateway between countries through its products.

We define ourselves as an experience brand. While providing a memorable yet luxurious experience through our selection of artisanal Belgian Beers, we aim to educate customers about the rich and diverse Belgian beer culture.

Another major aspect of our focus lies in elevating the complex flavours of Asian cuisine by pairing them with Belgian Beers. Our main aim is to bring legacy beers that can be enjoyed either via cultural or gastronomic pairings. It’s an artisanal traditional beer for a modern yet traditional Thailand.

Thailand is known to pose certain challenges to the alcohol industry here – from their decision a couple of years ago to disallow online alcohol sales, to their sporadic closure of bars and entertainment venues during the pandemic, to their fluctuating alcohol sales times. Can you weigh in on this and how you’ve managed to open despite these challenges?

The struggle is real! Considering all the great opportunities, the market has to offer, these challenges need to be considered to minimise risk. To navigate these laws can be quite tricky and cumbersome but we have to follow them and do as they ask. In the meantime, let’s just hope that the beers set the tune for some sort of silent taste revolution which will eventually benefit all the stakeholders, brewers, café owners, chefs, beer professors, critics, collectors, and consumers!

What has it been like as leaders of your team, and what are some unexpected aspects of running the business that you did not expect prior to starting it?

Firstly, the control on every aspect of it is something that we enjoy a lot, from tastings and finalising the recipes, to designing the branding, marketing, and looking after the supply chain across two continents, to eventually managing distribution and customer care. To make sure the brand experience is delivered as intended, every aspect must be closely monitored.

One of the most unexpected aspects has been the ongoing COVID-19 waves and alcohol taking a hit from the authorities. Naturally, due to strict lockdown measures, it’s harder to reach a larger audience for a tailored tasting experience.

What has it been like running a business as a couple? Any advice for other couples or individuals looking to do the same?

It’s been a wholesome journey! We both have quite different perspectives which allow us to think from all possible angles and judge each other’s ideas in an emotional yet rational way.

We try our best to avoid the ‘two-worlds collision’ scenario. We have found, through our own mistakes, that communication is key. Robust communication and openness are critical in any business relationship, particularly when your working relationship is only one side of the coin. More importantly, when there are business decisions to be made, you can’t bring your emotions as a couple into it. You both also need to be able to set boundaries. P.S. no business talks before coffee!

For all the young aspiring entrepreneurs out there, plan well, challenge yourself, and be passionate about what you do, and while you’re at it, sip some Loka Brews. Cheers!

How do you balance your current careers and running a business?

In our case, this whole work-life balance is a myth! It loses its meaning once you get into this parallel world. To be successful in both, it doesn’t mean to allocate equal hours in both but to find a rhythm that fulfils both sides. It’s more like blending all the parts together to create that perfect harmony where tasks, ideas, deadlines… just flow! But also, there are ‘give and take’ occasions where you have to readjust the expectations to re-prioritise one thing over another.

What are your expansion plans?

Based on our consumer demand, we would love to expand our current line-up to more diverse and never- before-experienced varieties of Belgian beers in Thailand, with an emphasis on bringing new food pairings with beer. We cannot wait to show everyone what’s next!

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