Alcohol and Pakistan have a very awkward relationship. The two seemingly can’t stand each other but at the same time can’t live without each other. And it’s been that way since a long while now.
The culture around alcohol is not just limited to illegally smuggled foreign liquor. Neither is it just restricted to local moonshine that may or may not result in instant death. We have a publicly traded company in Pakistan that has built a fortune out of getting people drunk. Yeah you’d be even more surprised to know the whole story about it.
Murree Brewery is the sole legally operated alcohol manufacturing company in Pakistan
With an annual revenue exceeding Rs. 8 Billion, it also one of the most successful companies trading on the Pakistan Stock Exchange.
Yes, its shares are traded on the Pakistani Stock Exchange. Murree Brewery is one of the oldest listed companies in the entire subcontinent. Sure, things have gone a little sour in terms of profitability during the last few year, but hey, even a company like Apple saw its revenue decline. All in all, it’s a pretty big company with it’s different sub-brands of booze being available widely, even outside Pakistan.
The company’s main production facility is located on National Park Road Rawalpindi, near the Army House i.e. the Chief of Army Staff’s residence. Can you believe that such a place is located in a place that is basically crawling with the military everywhere? Guess, it helps protect the operation from fanatics who’d be out to harass them.
There is another production unit in Hattar KPK.
So how did an alcohol producer of this magnitude came about in a country like Pakistan?
Murree Brewery has its roots in the colonial era. The company started out in 1860 so our velyati masters at the time could blow off some steam after a hard day of oppressing the locals and taking over land that wasn’t exactly theirs. The British coming to the resort of Ghora Gali needed booze, and lots of it and importing it from other far flung areas wasn’t being very logistically sound so a brewery was set up in Ghora Gali which is on the outskirts of the resort city of Murree.
The original building of the brewery, which was burned down during the independence struggle in 1940’s, had a very Gothic vibe to it. But soon after independence in 1947, production soon shifted to Rawalpindi due to water scarcity in Murree.
Back in the day, the Brewery was controlled by Edward Dyer who has a very nasty role to play in the history of the Indian subcontinent
The name sound familiar doesn’t it? Edward here was the father of this esteemed Colonel named Reginald Edward Harry Dyer. This guy right here:
If you remember your Pak Studies correctly, Harry Dyer or more commonly known as Col. Dyer once went ape shit and decided to kill a bunch of locals in a festival. They call it the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.
Anyway, back to the beer brewing business
In the 1940’s ownership went to Peshton Bandhara who belonged to the Parsi community and had a liquor business in Lahore. Since then the Bandhara family have had a controlling stake in Murree Brewery. Currently the company is being run by Isphanyar M. Bhandara who is the grandson of Peshton Bhandara. Fun fact: Mr. Isphanyar is also a MNA associated with the PML-N.
Things were pretty good for the company well after Pakistan gained independence other than the fact that the original distillery in Ghora Gali was burnt.
During the 50’s and 60’s, alcohol consumption was quite open in Pakistan. You had clubs and all, it was served in restaurants and military gatherings of that era were famous for the free flowing liquor. Lets just say business was booming for Murree.
However, in 1977 the company faced a massive setback thanks to one Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto
He banned alcohol consumption for Muslims in the country. Obviously, with alcohol being declared illegal the company’s profits declined. Though bootleggers operated, they were in limited numbers. Following that when the Zia regime took over and introduced Islamization Laws things took a turn for worse. With time, however, laws relating to alcohol were relaxed and business started growing again. Now you even had licensed liquor stores in some parts of Pakistan, particularly Sindh.
In a way, prohibition actually worked out in favor of the company since importing of foreign alcohol was banned entirely and Murree Brewery gained from being easily accessible, thanks to it being able to legally manufacture for non-Muslims within the country.
Without there being any strong local competitor the company somewhat established a monopoly in the liquor trade of Pakistan.
Today, not only has it introduced new brands of liquor but has also ventured into non-alcoholic beverages, like their famous fruit flavored malts. Murree Brewery unexpectedly found international fame when Hollywood actor Bruce Willis’ daughter was caught on camera sipping from a can of Murree Classic, in 2012. Soon after, in 2014, the company established a flagship store on Park Avenue, in New York City. It has also licensed a franchise in India. I don’t know if it’s a moment of pride for Pakistan or the opposite. But hey, I ain’t judging just laying out the facts. Cheers!
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Cover image via: bbc.co.uk