India’s most loved beer and rum brands have an interesting history
There’s nothing quite like the classics. Be it the songs of Kishore Kumar, the fragrance of Mom’s piping hot khichdi or watching Shaktimaan reruns on Amazon as an adult. The classics are timeless, and carry innumerable happy memories for whoever they touch.
In India, like anywhere else, college and university life creates some of the best memories of people’s lives. A key component of that life is drinking with friends. Remember those secret parties at friend’s houses or terraces where you enjoyed your first sips of the forbidden nectar? When you felt like you had finally grown, and yet you knew that you would get in trouble if your parents found out?
For broke college kids, this precious nectar often had two names: Old Monk rum and Kingfisher beer. As we transitioned from classes to jobs and got more than pocket change to spend, we sampled some of the top-shelf stuff. But as most Indians will swear, nothing beats the taste and the nostalgia associated with Old Monk and Kingfisher.
It doesn’t matter how many pegs of Jack Daniels or Jim Beams we can afford, nothing beats an Old Monk and Coke. Unless of course, it is a hot day and you need something to cool down with – then we go for a large pint of Kingfisher beer.
But have you ever wondered where these two brands came from, and how they became a household name in the country? That’s what this article will reveal, and let me tell you, their histories are worth remembering.
It all began in 1855 when Edward Abraham Dyer set up a brewery in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, with the intent of providing cheap beer to British soldiers stationed in the area. He created Asia’s first beer ‘Lion,’ and marketed with the phrase “as good as back home” to customers. In 1949, the company was acquired by Narendra Nath Mohan and was renamed ‘Mohan Meakin Breweries.’
In 1954, Mohan’s son Ved Rattan Mohan, a retired Indian army colonel took his father’s legacy. At some point in his life, he had visited Europe. And fell in love with the life and liquor brewed by Benedictine monks. He returned to India, brewed and introduced a rum aged in oak barrels for seven years. Infused with spices, it was named Old Monk as a tribute to those Benedictine ascetics.
After Mohan Jr.’s passing, his brother Kapil Mohan took over, and transformed Old Monk into the cultural phenomenon it is. His efforts made it the country’s largest selling alcoholic brand, even without officially advertising it ever. Having been awarded gold medals at Monde World Selections since 1982, the rum’s quality speaks for itself.
In fact, the iconic rum has its own fan club in Mumbai named COMRADES – an abbreviation for Council of Old Monk Rum Addicted Drinkers and Eccentrics. It was founded by Ian Pereira, a photographer in love with the dark, delicious nectar.
Today, Old Monk remains a standard order for millions of people at bars, house parties and everything in between. The rum has remained unchanged both in taste and packaging (chocolate-brown liquid in a fat, short and stippled bottle.) In a world that seems to be obsessed with something new every two hours and every five hashtags, this consistency can be quite the relief.
Now let’s move on to another drinkers’ staple, Kingfisher beer.
The story began with the establishment of five breweries in South India under the name United Breweries in 1915. They manufactured beers that were extremely popular with British troops stationed in India at the time.
It was common, in those years, to see bullock carts carrying enormous barrels or “Hog’s heads” of beer to British troops living in and around the area. In 1947, the company was purchased by Vittal Mallya (father of Vijay Mallya), this group’s first Indian director. He transformed it into a massive success – each one of the 89,763 beer outlets in India sells at least one brand from United Breweries.
Here’s a timeline for easy reference:–
- 1915: United Breweries (UB) forays into brewing with 5 breweries in South India
- 1944: First bottled beer is created under the label “Exports Beer”
- 1948: Mr. Vittal Mallya becomes first Chairman
- 1950: Bangalore is made headquarters
- 1960: Kalyani Breweries is set up in Kalyani, West Bengal
- 1965:Kesarval Beverages is set up in Goa
- 1972: High Range Breweries is set up in Cherthala in Kerala
- 1978: Kingfisher Premium is launched
- 1981: Kingfisher canned beer is launched
- 1982: Kingfisher Lager is launched in the UK & USA
- 1983: Dr. Vijay Mallya becomes Chairman
- 1999: Kingfisher Strong is launched
- 2008: Kingfisher Blue is launched
- 2009: Kingfisher Ultra is launched
- 2010: Greenfield brewery in Sangareddy District, Andhra Pradesh, commences operations
- 2010: Heineken breweries in India come under the Management of UB
- 2012: Heineken is brewed by UB in India
- 2015: Kingfisher Ultra Max is launched
- 2016: Kingfisher Buzz is launched
- 2017: Kingfisher Storm is launched
Today, Kingfisher is the largest-selling beer in India. Every alternate beer in India is a Kingfisher (the most popular one being Kingfisher Strong and Kingfisher “Ultra,” a red and a regular lager.) The beer is also available in 60+ countries in the world.
It has also been recognized by critics: Kingfisher Strong was honoured as “Asia’s Best Strong Lager Beer” at the prestigious World Beer Awards- 2013.
All variants of Kingfisher are frothy, amber-golden in colour and spiced with the fragrance of sweet malt, barley and corn. In terms of taste, it’s not the smoothest touch on the tongue – it is citrusy, almost a little sharp. Sweet and bitter make alternate appearances in each sip, and all for a surprisingly reasonable price. Needless to say, it is deeply beloved by everyone from college students and exhausted employees to weekend party-goers.
Old Monk and Kingfisher are quite deeply woven into everyday Indian life. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love either or both of these. If you are in India, you are likely to be surrounded by friends who swear by them. Even if you grow out of the taste, there’s something about the nostalgia, good memories and communal joy attached to these drinks that keep you coming back for more. We never forget those who stick with us through thick and thin, and these drinks have surely celebrated the highs with us and had our backs through our lows.
More often than not, a peg of Old Monk and a pint of Kingfisher beer reminds the average Indian smilingly about their college campus, the cheap bars they went to after college and the slightly fancy bar they went to after getting their first salary. Every single time, they had their trusty drinks keeping them good company.