India Today - - LEISURE - —Jabir

The Bri­tish em­pire may have forced us to pay for our own op­pres­sion but it had its com­pen­sa­tions. So as the sun flares over an­other In­dian sum­mer, let’s raise our chilled glasses to the im­pe­ri­al­ists who be­gat In­dian beer. The pi­o­neer, ap­par­ently, was one Henry Bohle who set up busi­nesses in Meerut and Mus­sourie in 1825. The lat­ter thrived for some years in the hands of the Mackinnon fam­ily, seed­ing a fer­ment of hill sta­tion brew­eries that stretched from Mur­ree to Shimla, Kasauli and Ranikhet and on to Dar­jeel­ing. Ed­ward Dyer, in par­tic­u­lar, bought up or es­tab­lished a chain of brew­eries in the Hi­malayas and is cred­ited with launch­ing Asia’s first beer brand, ‘Lion’, which was pro­duced in both Mur­ree and Kasauli. Dyer would sire (and later dis­own) the no­to­ri­ous Regi­nald Dyer of Jal­lian­wala Bagh—but that’s an­other story. By the 1880s, an­other ex­pe­ri­enced brewer, H.G. Meakin, had set up an ex­ten­sive em­pire, buy­ing some of Dyer’s fac­to­ries as well as es­tab­lish­ing new ones as far afield as Dal­housie, Kir­kee and Nuwara Eliya in Sri Lanka. The two firms would ul­ti­mately merge as Dyer and Meakin in the 1930s. By 1889, the 25-odd brew­eries in Bri­tish In­dia were pro­duc­ing some 5,165,138 gal­lons a year, (roughly a thou­sand times less than passes through our na­tional gul­lets to­day). And judg­ing by some of the vin­tage beer la­bels (yes, it’s a thing) trea­sured by col­lec­tors to­day, there was a lot more va­ri­ety back then. The Dyer Meakin brew­eries, for ex­am­ple, of­fered a range of light and dark ales, a stout, and sev­eral ‘sparkling beers’. To­day, the con­cern known as Mo­han Meakin is sus­tained by the pop­u­lar­ity of its house rum, while johnny-come-lately United Brew­eries (estd. 1857) dom­i­nates In­dia’s beer mar­ket with bland lagers and knuck­le­headed strong beers. Did the Bri­tish take all the tasty beer with them when they left? Well, the glass may be half empty but look at it this way: they gave us beer, we gave them Vi­jay Mallya.

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