Thursday, April 19, 2007


Modern brewing began for India in the early days of the British Empire — the mid-1700s. The demand for beer in the hot Indian climate by the British administrators and the troops was so great that it led to the creation of a completely new style of beer by George Hodgson in his London brewery — India Pale Ale also known as IPA. IPA is a strong, highly hopped ale designed to survive the five month ocean voyage to India without spoiling. India Pale Ale was shipped with every voyage for over a century and became very popular in Britain and North America.

In the late 1820s Edward Dyer moved from England to set up the first brewery in India at Kasauli (later incorporated as Dyer Breweries in 1855) in the Himalaya mountains, near Shimla, producing Asia's first beer called Lion. The brewery was soon shifted to nearby Solan (close to the British summer capital Shimla), as there was an abundant supply of fresh springwater there. The Kasauli brewery site was converted to a distillery which Mohan Meakin Ltd. still operates. Dyer set up more breweries at Shimla, Murree, Rawalpindi and Mandalay.

Another entrepreneur, H G Meakin, moved to India and bought the old Shimla and Solan Breweries from Edward Dyer and added more at Ranikhet, Dalhousie, Chakrata, Darjeeling and Kirkee. In 1937, when Burma was separated from India, the company was restructured with its Indian assets as Dyer Meakin Breweries, a public company on the London Stock Exchange. Following independence, in 1949 N.N. Mohan took over management of the company and the name was changed to Mohan Meakin Ltd. The company continues to produce beer across India to this day and Lion is still available in northern India. Lion was changed from an IPA to a Lager in the 1960's, when due to East European influence, most brewers in India switched from brewing Ales to brewing Lagers.

Today no brewer in India makes India Pale Ale. All Indian beers are either lagers (5 % alcohol — such as Australian lager) or strong lagers (8 % alcohol - such as the popular MAX super strong beer). International Breweries Pvt. Ltd. have recently announced an intention to work with Mohan Meakin to produce and launch an India Pale Ale called Indian IPA from India's first brewery at Solan. Kingfisher, Kings and Belo are popular Indian beer brands.

In various parts of north-eastern India, traditional rice beer is quite popular. Several festivals feature this nutritious, quite intoxicating, drink as part of the celebrations. The rice is fermented in vats that are sometimes buried underground. Elephants are known to attack villages, with the primary agenda of raiding these vats and having a good time generally. Following one such raid in north-eastern India, a police officer in Dumka was quoted in the press as saying: "Tribals who love rice beer brew the liquor at home. Elephants too are fond of this beer. Often it is found that, attracted by the strong smell of the liquor, wild elephants tear down the tribal houses where the brew is stored."

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