Islamic Pakistan and Alcohol Manufacture
The state of Pakistan was the dream of the poet Iqbal, who visualized a homeland for Muslims of the sub-continent. That's the reason he used the word "Pak" meaning "pure" in Urdu, as the name of the new nation. Pakistan had a tortuous birth as an Islamic state and the country soon, despite the dream of Jinnah for a secular state, adopted Islam as its state religion. But despite being a Muslim state, Pakistan could not shake off the vestiges of pluralism and liberalism, which they had learnt from the English, who were the rulers of the sub -continent.
In my visit to Pakistan about 3 years back, I visited the famous battlefield at Chillianwala and also the Sikh gurudwaras. I also interacted with a lot of Muslim officers of the PAF, both at Rawalpindi and Karachi. I was surprised that whiskey was freely available and on inquiry my host told me that he would give me a taste of whiskey manufactured in Pakistan. This was a surprise , but I had a couple of drinks of Murree Single Malt whiskey from Pakistan and was impressed with the taste. The name of the alcohol brewed in Pakistan goes by the name of "Murree", which is the name of a hill station in Pakistan and earlier had the brewery located there. The brewery suffered a fire in 1940 and shifted to the foothills, but the name Murree has remained. It's a distinctive trade mark.
Islam, as we all know is completely against alcohol. It is banned in their scriptures. But in Pakistan alcohol is manufactured and that too in large quantities. Pakistan is the only Muslim nation in the world that has an alcohol manufacturing and brewing plant.
The brewery at Murree has a checkered history that can be traced back to 1856 and that is almost a century and half back. At that time general Dyer who was commanding the troops in Punjab decided to have a local brewery to manufacture beer and rum for the English troops. The brewery came up in 1860 at the hill station at Murree. This place was chosen for its salubrious climate.The initial manufacture was guided by experts from Scotland.
The Brewery was a success and production increased. In 1900, a Parsi family settled in Punjab bought the brewery from the English owner. The Bhandara family took over the brewery and expanded it further. The company went public and in 1906, its shares were listed on the Calcutta stock exchange. After the creation of Pakistan, the shares were delisted from the Calcutta Stock exchange and listed at the Karachi stock exchange. For the last almost 70 years the shares of the company have performed consistently well over the national average.
Till the time of Bhutto, there was no prohibition in Pakistan, but with a view to cement his base Bhutto enforced prohibition in Pakistan. this was in 1977. He thought that by this act, the hard line Islamists would rally around him. Bhutto however had seriously miscalculated and he was overthrown in a military coup by general Zia-ul-Haq and subsequently hanged as a common criminal. The sad part is that those who ride the tiger are eaten by the tiger.
The brewery went into tough times, but it was revived by Zia-ul-Haq. He called Bhandara and announced that he would introduce a permit system and people with valid permits could buy alcohol. No permit was needed by the non Muslims who could buy liquor freely.
The brewery now expanded and the new MD, Minoo Bhandara made an ambitious plans. The Pakistan government allowed him to import the latest machinery and alcohol manufacturing equipment. Experts from Scotland and Germany also arrived. All this was done without publicity, but alcohol manufacture got a fillip. The brewery launched many new products and many of them are served in the bars at Mumbai.
The brewery is now one of the biggest in Asia and Minoo Bhandara is also planning to launch his products in India with a manufacturing unit at Bangalore. As far as Pakistan is concerned, the road is only forward and the company has over half a million liters of alcohol stored in its cellars in casks.
The brewery manufactures at least 6 varieties of beer and and a dozen brands of whiskey, gin and rum. these products are at par with the best in the world. Their best product is the Muree Single Malt whiskey which is 20 years old and I have doused myself with it and found it extremely smooth and classy.
The Pakistan government has outlets for Murree products in all five star hotels and select shopping arcades. Indiscriminate sale is however not allowed, but its not difficult to get a permit and buy whatever you want to drink. Bars in five star hotels also serve these drinks.
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