History of Alcohol Manufacture in Muslim Pakistan
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is not like other Muslim nations as some aspects of its life are quite different from orthodox Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen. One aspect concerns manufacture of alcohol. Pakistan is the only Muslim country that has a functioning brewery that is churning out various types of beer and whiskey. In a country which is 97% Muslim this brewery is a success and its shares which are listed on the Karachi stock exchange have performed consistently well for over a hundred years.
Origin of the Brewery
In 1856 a need was felt for a local brewery for officers of the East India company army posted in the Punjab and North West Frontier. The family of General Dyer decided to open a brewery at Murree, a hill resort in Punjab. The Brewery came up in 1860 and with help from experts from Scotland started manufacture of beer.
Expansion and Public Listing
In 1900 the company went public and it is on record that its shares were listed on the Calcutta Stock exchange in 1902. In the meantime a Parsi family settled in Punjab took over the management of the Brewery. The Brewery continued to function at the hill resort, but a paucity of spring water forced it to shift to Rawalpindi in 1941.
The company was listed on the Karachi stock exchange and it is on record that its shares have performed consistently above the national index for well over a 100 years.
!947 and Formation of Pakistan
The creation of Pakistan in 1947 had no effect on the Bhandara family who were the owners of the brewery and things continued as it was earlier. Whiskey and beer was available in most clubs and restaurants at Karachi and Lahore and other places. This continued till the early seventies when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over as Prime Minister of Pakistan
Bhutto and Introduction of Prohibition
Bhutto was fast losing support among the populace and in mid seventies of the last century he brought in prohibition. He assumed this step will make him popular among the masses, but he was overthrown by his protégé general Zia ul Haq and hanged as a common criminal.
The introduction of prohibition affected the Murree brewery and production fell and hard times came on the Bhandara family.
Lifting of Partial Prohibition and Introduction of Permits
General Zia Ul Haq for all his reputation as strict Islamist was in reality a pragmatic man. He realized the opening the brewery and lifting of total prohibition would be in the interest of Pakistan as it would cut down on boot legging and illegal smuggling of alcohol from India and Scotland.
The General lifted prohibition and introduced a permit system. This was freely available to non-Muslims and even Muslims could get the permit on medical grounds. Foreigners were also issued permits. The Brewery now expanded production and the new Managing director Minoo Bhandara brought in new technology and products.
The Brewery expands.
The Brewery was allowed to import the latest equipment in 2001 from Germany and a modernization plan was put in effect. New products including a 20 year old single Malt whiskey was launched. Most of the brands of beer and whiskey are of high standard, but high prices and smuggled whiskey from India being available cheaper, the competition is tough.
In 2011 Mino Bhandara gave a franchise to an Indian company which began to manufacture Murree beer from their plant in Bangalore.
Sale of Murree Products
Murree products are available all across Pakistan, but the retail outlets are only in shops in five star hotels in the major metros like Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Anybody can buy a bottle of whiskey, gin or beer at these outlets with a permit. A permit is issued by the local excise commissioner. However sale during the months of Ramada is stopped or curtailed.