Peace Through Beer

I love the new porta-keg!
Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer.
Henry Lawson
Beer, it’s the best damn drink in the world.
Jack Nicholson
Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world.
Kaiser Wilhelm
God has a brown voice, as soft and full as beer.
Anne Sexton


Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Benjamin Franklin
You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.
Frank Zappa
Beer: So much more than just a breakfast drink.
Homer Simpson

I guess we call all be grateful that Kaiser Wilhelm was so incompetent that he couldn’t find a beer drinking woman in Germany. That’s like not being able to find a Republican in Arkansas. That quibble aside, however, beer has been an integral part of history for Millenia.

As I noted before, beer is a major part of western religions. From the Egyptian granaries to the wine Jesus supplied for the wedding at Cana, our ancestors had no problem believing in God and tipping back a strong libation. And, let’s be blunt, were it not for beer, and men ogling milk maids, there would be neither pasteurization nor a cure for small pox. And it seems worth noting that the one guy who didn’t drink wrote the most hyper-violent part of the Bible.

So beer is good and abstinance is bad.

You already feel better about yourself, don’t you?

Well more proof of this truth is coming from an unlikely source. A brewery in Pakistan – yes, you read that right – is getting ready to serve India.

No, I am not making this up.

The Church of St. Thomas, a Christian sect, has a solid foothold in both countries. And they drink beer. So do tourists and many non-Muslim people such as Buddhists and Hindus.

Did you notice that the beer drinkers in this list are the more peaceable folks? It does seem worth noting.

Anyway, back to beer and Pakistan and the first step for true world peace.

In a country where mullahs ceaselessly denounce Western vices and laws prevent restaurants from offering anything stronger than mocktails or Red Bull, the Murree Brewery somehow perseveres, churning out pallets of lager with an efficiency that would make Milwaukee proud.

A relic of British colonialism, the 152-year-old brewery has survived a 1977 government decree banning tippling by Pakistani Muslims, turning instead to a small but ever-present clientele of non-Muslim foreigners and Christian Pakistanis on the hunt for alcohol-enhanced answers to Pakistan’s 100-plus-degree summers.

A recent Pakistani government decision to allow beer exports to non-Muslim countries raises an intriguing prospect: Could Murree beer help relations with nuclear archrival India, a neighbor whose populace has a well-known craving for a cold one?

“Business has to prevail, it has to be the bridge, I would say,” Isphanyar Bhandara, chief executive of Murree Brewery, said during an interview at his office, where shelves of Murree offerings as varied as beer and 12-year-old single malt whiskey greet visitors. Government authorities, he continued, “have realized that keeping a lid on alcohol, allowing it in Pakistan but not allowing it to be exported, doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make economic sense.”

Approval for alcohol exports, a government move aimed at generating more tax revenue, coincides with a recent thaw in ties between Pakistan and India, die-hard enemies since the partition of British colonial India in 1947. The two countries endorsed a most-favored nation agreement this year that fosters trade through the mutual imposition of lower import tariffs and higher import quotas. And Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to India in April was viewed on both sides of the border as an important symbolic gesture.

Murree can now do business with any non-Muslim nation, but India appears to be the likeliest market. Its beer sales are expected to double to almost $9 billion by 2016, according to a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek. In India’s northwestern state of Punjab, Murree beer is already routinely smuggled over the border.

Still, Bhandara acknowledges that his marketing department has tough work ahead.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed and shouting at Indian Punjab to import our beer, but it’s a hard sell in India,” Bhandara said. “They are already producing beer in millions of barrels…. So it’s not that we are going to put crates on the border, and people are going to come and quickly snatch it up. We don’t see that happening, though we wish it would.”

Within Pakistan, sales are hardly a problem. At hotels in the capital, Islamabad, cases of Murree are hauled away by thirsty Westerners just as quickly as workers can stock them. Black marketeers make millions of rupees serving the legions of Pakistani Muslims who drink on the sly.

That Pakistani Muslims can get their hands on Murree beer, whiskey, vodka and gin doesn’t really bother Bhandara.

“Murree’s direct customers are institutions, not individuals,” said the beer magnate, whose non-Muslim family has owned Murree since the late 1940s. “I’m only allowed to sell my product at government-authorized outlets. If those hotels and shops sell to Muslims, that’s not my concern or jurisdiction.”

The people Bhandara might worry about the most, Pakistan’s array of Islamist militant groups, have never attacked the brewery. The reason may lie in its location, a sprawling red-brick compound less than a mile and a half from the army’s headquarters, Pakistan’s equivalent to the Pentagon, and not far from the residence of army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

Inside the brewery, a tidy, clockwork rhythm prevails that seems out of place amid the dusty bustle of bazaars and motorcycle-rickshaw-choked avenues of Rawalpindi. Workers and technicians, almost all of whom are Pakistani Muslims, tend to conveyor belts spitting out thousands of bottles a day of Murree’s honey-gold lager. In the distillery, an eclectic array of liquors is produced: Lemo’ Lime gin, Dew of Himalayas malt whiskey, Bolskaya vodka and, until recently, even an Irish cream.

Sabih ur-Rehman, a retired army major and Bhandara’s right-hand man, acknowledges that marketing a Pakistani-made Irish cream was a hard sell.

“I’d say it was one of the best products we produced,” Rehman said. “But the market wasn’t there. Those who drank it almost got addicted, it was that good. But it’s a liqueur and the alcohol percentage is less. So we couldn’t get customers interested.”

Murree executives are heartened by the federal government’s decision to allow exports, but their relationship with Pakistani Punjab provincial bureaucrats has been far from ideal.

You know where a liqueur would sell well? Bangkok. Oh well, baby steps.

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