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Banned at home, Pakistan brewery seizes Hollywood moment

Published Nov 16, 2012 06:39am


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— Photo by Shameen Khan/

RAWALPINDI: What have Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, underage drinking and Pakistan's only beer maker got in common?

It was the arrest of the Hollywood stars' daughter in New York with a can of Murree Brewery's beer last June that propelled the company out of obscurity and into the spotlight.

Inundated with emails asking about its beer, Murree Brewery seized on the free publicity to launch expansion plans outside the Muslim nation, where alcohol is banned and those that do drink can become targets of Taliban militants and other Islamist fundamentalists.

Five months since the arrest, the 150-year-old company says it has lined up distributors that could see its flagship beer arrive on liquor store shelves in the United States and Dubai as early as the first quarter of next year.

“Demi Moore and Bruce Willis' daughter gave us multi-million dollars worth of publicity by default. We plan to go to the United States and make a queue to hug both the daughter and the mother,” Sabih ur Rehman, special assistant to the chief executive, joked with Reuters.

Murree Brewery, established in 1860 by British colonial rulers to supply beer to their troops, is desperately looking for business overseas to hedge against its uncertain domestic market. Prohibition was imposed in Pakistan in 1977, and non-Muslims and foreigners must obtain a government permit to purchase alcohol at designated retailers, mainly upscale hotels.

It also produces a line of juices and non-alcoholic drinks, but is prohibited from advertising its beer, whisky, gin and other liquor products.

Relying on word of mouth and an influx of thirsty diplomats and foreign investors, annual alcohol sales have grown an average of 20 percent over the past five years, reaching $26.8 million in the 2012 financial year. The company's stock is up 175 per cent so far this year, trading at 160 rupees on Nov. 13, far outpacing the 42 per cent rise in the Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark 100-share index.

Despite its strong sales, the company's net profit after taxes rose a mere 1 per cent year-on-year to 525 million Pakistan rupees ($5.48 million) for the year ended June 30, due to an increase in alcohol taxes and rising labour costs.

Living in Fear

Murree Brewery's chief executive, Isphanyar Bhandara, lives in constant fear that authorities will shut down alcohol production at any moment as Pakistan drifts towards a more conservative interpretation of Islam.

“Pakistan is moving more and more to the right. That is not good for Pakistan and not good for us,” said the 39-year-old executive at his office in Rawalpindi, a military city just outside the capital, Islamabad.

“Each day we are allowed to survive, that is a blessing.”

The brewery, which employs 1,100 people, is located within the headquarters of the Pakistani Army and across the street from the residences of the country's top military commanders, making it arguably the most protected brewery in the world.

To ensure survival, it has turned to a European brewery to produce its beer for overseas consumption due to a government ban on alcohol exports, which was eased just recently.

The Pakistani brewery said it has reached an agreement with the Czech Republic's Zatec Brewery initially to produce at least 5,000 cases, each containing 24 bottles of Murree Beer, annually from next year. That amount will double in 2015, Rehman said.

However, the managing director of Zatec Brewery, Martin Kec, said he knew nothing of this arrangement and his firm had only produced a very small amount of Murree Beer in the past.

Murree Brewery also said it has lined up distributors in Texas, Dubai and Denmark to market and sell its lager under franchise agreements, and is looking for partners in Britain and other European countries. “We are virgins and we are looking for husbands,” said Bhandara, whose family is from the country's non-Muslim Parsi minority.

But Murree Beer faces a difficult road as a new player in the crowded U.S. and European markets, dominated by the industry's “big four” — Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg.

The company's last attempt to break into Western markets failed after it was forced to end its partnership with an Austrian brewery due to high costs and logistical problems.

Analysts say a few tabloid headlines will not be enough to be successful and Murree will also need a multi-million-dollar promotional campaign. It is also unclear the type of consumer they are trying to sell their beer to, since most Pakistanis living abroad are Muslim and unlikely to drink alcohol.

“They are never going to be anything but a very niche player. It's unlikely they will be able to push as hard as major brewers with their own niche lagers,” said a London-based stock analyst, who asked not to be identified because he did not cover Murree Brewery.

But company officials are hopeful, particularly for the US market. “Americans will drink anything. They are like fish,” Rehman said.


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Comments (49) Closed

Daniyal Nov 21, 2012 06:22pm
And you stay out of my home and my personal choices. At the end of the day its my God and my after life. Stop being the messiah on earth.
Jp Nov 17, 2012 12:38am
I feel secret is just not the correct word. Its all open here, i have lived all my life in karachi, never heard anyone having a problem drinking publicly. Its so common nowadays.
Muhammad Ashraf Nov 21, 2012 12:09pm
Please do not try to teach us how to earn FE. For us Business is a subset of our Religion Islam. We do not want to earn FE if it comes from any mean prohibited by Islam.
Edwardian Nov 16, 2012 12:16pm
@BIG EYES shut...Right under the Heading it says Reuters. What does that mean to you?
G.A. Nov 16, 2012 12:58pm
Pakola and Rooh Afza - here is your chance to get free publicity. Send a few samples to Demi Moore, Bruce Willis and their daughter. Would love to see these two drinks at American night clubs.
Faran Ali Nov 16, 2012 12:30pm
I am pretty surprised on this... from the article "The brewery, which employs 1,100 people, is located within the headquarters of the Pakistani Army". If its so much important then move it to the diplomatic enclave why the Army Headquarters.
A. Khan Nov 16, 2012 07:27pm
I know that a lot of Muslims in Pakistan drink alcohol but claiming almost all do is really pushing it. What is the source for your information ?
ashok Nov 20, 2012 04:30pm
Pakistan should encourge the Liquor industory even if it is against the teachings of islam to drink Liquor.Manufacture will give Pakistan one solid item strictly for export to countries like India & China and if your product is of Quality ,it will be a very good source of foreign exchange for Pakistan.Take example from India's export of cattles for consumption whereas killing cows is against Hindu religon.Business and religon should be kept seprate.
saad aziz Nov 16, 2012 12:36pm
i think it was a joke
Hornet Nov 17, 2012 05:40am
Harbajan Singh, very nice comments. Sadar Jee zinda bad.
Mustafa Razavi Nov 17, 2012 05:21am
Guilt loves company.
Mustafa Razavi Nov 17, 2012 05:19am
I think you wrote this mail exactly at12 O'Clock. Don't look at your watch you will spill the beer.
Punjabi Puttar. Nov 16, 2012 08:33am
Murree Beer is just what i need after a hard days work. The beauty of murree beer is its distinct Pukka Punjabi taste and it is made the same way it was in 1860. the taste is refreshing but only after a hard days work.
Imran Nov 16, 2012 05:38pm
Why dont we look East? Such a big beer market in India.
saythetruth Nov 17, 2012 08:11am
How could Dawn allow this comment. Every day Dawn looking more and more like Hindu new paper.
Ali Vaqar Awan Nov 17, 2012 06:57am
Business of Murree Brewery will never finish. Infact it will continue to flourish. People still continue to buy it openly. As cops can'nt do nothing to stop its sale. Government makes laws however it will be flexible and bendable. It is heavily drank in Pakistan. Majority of the buyers are muslims than non-muslims. 97% of the population is muslim while rest of the 3% are non-muslims. The itself speaks for itself.
irfan husain Nov 17, 2012 04:16am
Under the Shah, some Iranian mullahs had issued a fatwa that Aab-e-Jau (barley water) was halal. As a result, the local beer was sold and consumed openly. Will some sensible Pakistani clerics please follow suit?
A.R. Nov 17, 2012 12:56am
Talking of Rooh Afza, Hamdard Waqf Labs was founded in Delhi. They later opened a branch in Pakistan around the time of partition. I recently tasted the one manufactured by Hamdard Waqf Pakistan only to find that it was a very poor cousin of the original. And it's actually a pretty different product. Many of the ingredients, which perhaps account for the difference in taste, are missing in the Pakistani version. The Pakistani version is primarily rose syrup. How did that happen? Not a big fan of Indian beer though. Would love to try Murree.
Aqbal Nov 20, 2012 11:01am
Murree Brewery should start manufacturing operations in West Malaysia.
Saeed Nov 17, 2012 12:30am
Alcohol is integral part of development. For prosperous Pakistan we need bars selling alcohol .
Mohammad Azeez Khan Nov 17, 2012 12:24am
Very interesting comments and humour too. I enjoyed reading everyones comments some of which are facts. Hahaha! Beautiful comments
Pappu Nov 16, 2012 01:12pm
Ridiculous comment " Americans will drink anything". Displays a total lack of maturity
zain Nov 16, 2012 01:14pm
Murree beer haram in Islam.What a irony?
Harbhajan Singh Nov 16, 2012 12:27pm
I am sure Murree Beer is drank in Pakistan secretly by muslims, it can increase its consumtion hundred fold if they label it as Halal. Why kill someone innocent to go to heaven to drink wine when it is available here on earth in Pakistan.
G.A. Nov 16, 2012 06:40pm
Pukka Punjabi flavor? Does Muree Beer taste like lassi? From Peshawar to Calcutta no one talks about their heritage as loudly as Punjabis. Proud of what??
G.A. Nov 16, 2012 06:51pm
One doesnt have to look hard to find alcohol in Pakistan. Frankly, Pakistan is portrayed not too different from Saudi Arabia in the Western press. Pretty much goes for any non-white country really.
ColdMillennium Nov 16, 2012 01:43pm
Unfortunately, this story does not tell the 'complete' story....murree beer is openly sold in wine shops...closed only on fridays...the shops owners and even the cops don't fact they are parked outside the stores usually. Officially, only non-muslims can buy it without a permit but as is the case with most things laws are not really followed in Pakistan. The foreign news agencies are making a living out of portraying Pakistan as a place where Taliban prowl the streets and everything from fashion to music to drinks are enjoyed 'underground'! In fact there were more fireworks in Karachi for Diwali then for Shab-e-Baraat. How about the Murree Irish cream?
JazbatiJhaaru Nov 16, 2012 07:25am
long live the Murree Beer.
Cherian (Melbourne) Nov 17, 2012 08:20am
Sounds like you guys have a fantastic brew in Muree! Bring it on mates:-)
B. Ally Nov 16, 2012 04:06pm
Murree Brewery is an integral part of Pindi. Mr. Bandhara do not worry. So long Pindi is there,Murree Brewery stays around.
imran Nov 17, 2012 08:52am
I am Pakistani living abroad and i have many Pak friends who love their beer therefore it is absurd to say that "since most Pakistanis living abroad are Muslim and unlikely to drink alcohol''.
Atif Nov 17, 2012 09:07am
Even 'A lot' is a big stretch! I would say around 10%-20% (it includes non-muslims)
Azad Nov 16, 2012 07:58am
Why do unnecessarily blam Taliban or Islamic fundamentalists ? Noone would disagree that Alcohol is banned in Islam .Some followers are so freak that they don't even use deodrant or perfume having alcoho content. But I wonder how many muslims follow it ? Islamic countries become alcohol guzzlers after months of Roza. They follow that shouldn't be followed and don't follow that should be followed.
Abdullah Hussain Nov 17, 2012 09:25am
Why the government is taking so long to order permanent closer of this vice producing factory, there is no need for such factory.
sdf Nov 16, 2012 08:42am
Yes, and rather bad strategy to insult the market you're trying to win over...
Aizaz Moin Nov 16, 2012 09:28am
O don't believe everything you read in the papers. I have found muslims on all continents drinking like fish. Just give them a chance! And that includes our dear brothers from the penninsula
Popa Perdaise Nov 17, 2012 11:26am
Mate that beer is bater then fosters;)
Khan Nov 16, 2012 07:35am
Jhoot mut bolo. Almost all muslims in Pakistan drink alcohol Atleast be honest to yourselves
Kitters356 Nov 16, 2012 07:32am
Label it as halal lager, Muslims will drink it too
Parvez Nov 16, 2012 10:20am
Murree Brewery is a survivor and its products are top class.
BIG EYES Nov 16, 2012 10:18am
Okay did DAWN check whether their story is "original" because the same piece is up on Express Tribune, as well.
Dave Nov 16, 2012 12:03pm
I was born in Pakistan and I will definitely drink it if available in US
Cherian (Melbourne) Nov 17, 2012 03:37pm
Of course for suref
Daniyal Nov 21, 2012 06:21pm
Live and let live. We should be a government that does not enforce its visions or rules upon the public but let the public make its own choices. What harm can I bring to anyone if after a long day at work I just want to kick back at my own house, watch some sports, and drink a beer. How about I stay out of your religious issues and prejudices against people who drink and you stay out of my home.
Hop Nov 16, 2012 10:27am
It's a Reuters story which means multiple websites must be hosting it. Dawn didn't say its their original story.
Ahmed j Nov 16, 2012 09:47am
I once read a poster on a wine shop "Curry with Murree". I was surprised to see Murree in Birmingham. I enquired the sales person and I was more surprised to see the can which read Made in Austria under licence from Murree Brewery Pakistan. I yet have to see any Pakistani product made under licence to a European country.
skeptic Nov 17, 2012 01:17pm
it's actually very easily available in Pakistan(especially in big cities) and may i say "top class"
Dilaer Nov 16, 2012 07:30am
It is wrong to assume that Americans will drink anything, Sir. Focus on quality and good product and hardwork. It is a very wrong approach to sell anything.
Liu Nov 17, 2012 12:26pm
Islamically speaking the nonMuslims can produce and drink all the wine they want, but not in open public but indoors.