Banned at home, Murree Brewery seizes Hollywood moment

Published: November 16, 2012

A worker at Pakistan's lone beer maker, Murree Brewery, checks the quality of bottles at the factory in Rawalpindi November 10, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS

 A worker at Pakistan's lone beer maker, Murree Brewery, checks the quality of bottles at the factory in Rawalpindi November 10, 2012. PHOTO: REUTERS Murree Brewery products are displayed at the factory in Rawalpindi November 10, 2012. 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, which are mainly upscale hotels. PHOTO: REUTERS

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.

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 percent so far this year, trading at 160 rupees on November 13, far outpacing the 42 percent 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 percent year-on-year to Rs525 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 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.

But Murree Beer faces a difficult road as a new player in the crowded US 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.

View a slideshow on the Murree Brewery here

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Reader Comments (31)

  • The Khan
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:18PM

    “since most Pakistanis living abroad are Muslim and unlikely to drink alcohol.”
    You guys have no idea. Try advertising it to Pakistani public and you would see demand would far outstrip supply.
    I am a huge fan of mixed drinks but if i see Murree Brewery’s beer on Canadian store shelves, i would not hesitate.
    Sincerely,
    Pakistani expat in waiting

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  • Yo!!
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:22PM

    “Pakistan is moving more and more to the right. That is not good for Pakistan and not good for us,” - not good for you maybe, but for Pakistan its good 4 sure!
    Right is always good, no wonder its called RIGHT!!!

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  • Khurram
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:32PM

    Lol Most of the Pakistanis I have met pretend to be the best Muslims in the world but on weekends you can actually find them all lining up outside the clubs and most of them drink beer in private but all of the Pakistanis abroad have Multiple Personality disorder and they act like the most Self Righteous in front of others but in reality they are a Hypocritical crowd altogether. So believe me Murree brewery will have a huge demand in America, Germany, Norway and UK where Pakistani community is in large numbers.

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  • Turbo Lover
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:34PM

    And when it is God forbid banned, then their bottles will be nothing short of antiques.

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  • Ali
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:44PM

    Go Murree!

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  • kfjf
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:48PM

    I am a Murree Brewery fan; even the non-alcohol fruity, malty, hops drinks are pretty great. Big apple, peach etc. But please make them less sweet. As a special favor to me – random commenter from the internet :)

    If marketed better I think Murree should be able to grab a greater niche in the soda market right here. A soda for grown-ups niche.

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  • Mj
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:49PM

    I’d like to try their products, but cannot due to silly laws enacted by Mr. Bhutto, a drinker himself, to appease the reactionary rightwingers.

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  • Sibtain
    Nov 16, 2012 - 12:54PM

    Good luck Murree! Anything news from Pakistan not related to terrorism is welcome.

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  • Bear drinker
    Nov 16, 2012 - 1:05PM

    Another marque brand of British facing constant threat of closure in Islamic republic.Better shift your base to another country and flourish.You have no place in Islamic countries.Recommend

  • Ajju
    Nov 16, 2012 - 1:16PM

    i love their millennium version of Murree beer. 2 blue cans are enough for you to visit skies.

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  • Raza Khan
    Nov 16, 2012 - 1:42PM

    They make one of the best beers in the world but sadly cannot sell in their own country! Go West & explore the world. Wishing you all the best. Bhandara Sahib was a great human being who died due to a tragic traffic accident in China.

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  • Parvez
    Nov 16, 2012 - 1:54PM

    Murree Brewery makes a good product and so it will survive.

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  • Mohammed Imran
    Nov 16, 2012 - 2:07PM

    Who says muslims cant get alcohol in Pakistan ? Muree beer rocks!

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  • fact
    Nov 16, 2012 - 2:32PM

    This story is really old.

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  • Salman
    Nov 16, 2012 - 2:34PM

    @Yo!!:

    that’s the best logic ever………… :/

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  • Ashraf P
    Nov 16, 2012 - 4:05PM

    I would love to get a job as a Muree Beer tester. I will work for peanuts.

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  • Israr
    Nov 16, 2012 - 4:43PM

    Don’t worry Murree Brewery!!!!!! Your location has made you “the most protected brewery in the world” in every sense of the word. If you had been at any other place, you would have been banned in 1977. Lucky you are………..but lets see how long you remain lucky enough to be the only brewery in Pakistan. The only brewery in Pakistan???????? Sounds so weird. Why are there no other breweries? I mean if there is one then there should be others……………Pakistan Zindabad

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  • Horrified
    Nov 16, 2012 - 6:36PM

    Amazing beer! Good luck to this really intriguing company that has survived in a banned market!!

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  • Kaashaan
    Nov 16, 2012 - 9:08PM

    As a Pakistani, I would like this stuff to be made legal. If people can buy cigarettes that cause cancer this stuff should be public.

    This stuff is way less harmful than the suicide bombings, drone strikes and the karachi target killings.

    Go Murree!

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  • Nov 16, 2012 - 10:12PM

    The Murree Brewery is one of the oldest public companies of the sub-continent. Its shares were traded on the Calcutta Stock Exchange as early as 1902, and is now the oldest continuing industrial enterprise of Pakistan, and among the top 25 performing public companies listed on the Karachi Stock Exchange.

    http://www.riazhaq.com/2010/04/pakistani-beer-company-in-kse-100-index.html

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  • Aviator
    Nov 16, 2012 - 11:53PM

    Murree brewery would do well if it sold its non-alcoholic drinks in Pakistani restaurants in places such as the UK, their apple cider would go well with a Karahi! :)

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  • agthagola
    Nov 17, 2012 - 12:20AM

    Please leave Pakistan alone. They have minimal of alcohol evil but western media keep on persevrating on Murree Brewery (the only alcohol producing facility in IRP). This Brewery should be closed and it should make some healthy drinks insetead and should spread some good instead of alcohol. It is amazing to see how much money West is spending to contain the evils done by Alcohol in Western countries. On the other hand Western writers keep trying to promote this evil in Muslim countries including Pakistan. I Treat alcohol addiction for living and have first hand knowledge that how much evil is being created in USA by alcohol. Families are destroyed and personal health is impaired. Mental health is adversely affected by alcohol. There is amost invaribaly alcohol involed in majority of crimes may it be robberies or rapes or child molestation. If Western media is honest then they should praise the restrictions on alcohol instead of criticising it in Pakistan.

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  • Asif Butt
    Nov 17, 2012 - 2:43AM

    Major religions forbid its consumption.

    And I dont like comments which suggest Pakistani/Muslim hypocrites.

    The world is full of examples regarding every religion and nationals who are hypocrites , when it comes to alcohol usage and anti-social entertainment/time-pass.

    The world is changing , everything tends to have a global opinion.

    Just like cigarette , alcohol is a very controversial addiction.

    There are even legislations ensuring its ban and punishing its mis-use.

    My question is ,

    WHAT THE HELL ARE WE ARGUING/DEBATING ABOUT HERE IN THIS BLOG ?

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  • farhan
    Nov 17, 2012 - 7:45AM

    Proud of Murree. Keep up the good work. I remember old Gynkhana days when their bar was crowded with happy folks sipping on cold ones. Stupid politics sold us out. Those were good old days when no one minded wine shops doing brisk business in residential areas. Dont recall folks complaining then. Now every other person has a judgement. If I drink its between me and my God. Dont need another person or the state to dictate how I should choose to live my life. Afterall thats how we used to co exist.

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  • SK5
    Nov 17, 2012 - 9:23AM

    In Australia we have moved towards plain packaging for cigarettes and are trying to do the same thing for alcohol. In schools over here theirs a subject called health and constantly they urge teenagers to aviod these “toxins” especially alcohol. I know three friends all born and bred aussie not even muslim and they don’t drink. Honestly after reading this article I can safely say that the devloping world will remain the developing world.

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  • galli ke larki
    Nov 17, 2012 - 10:22AM

    ‘Rawalpindi, a military city just outside the capital, Islamabad ” military city?? seriously?

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  • Something Clever
    Nov 18, 2012 - 3:45PM

    Talk about foolish ignorance. Comparing cigarette addiction with alcohol consumption.
    Cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance. A substance that is actually addicting to everyone.
    Alcohol is not an actual addictive substance on its own. It’s personality/mood based. Alcoholics usually have the potential when they’re born. Or… they simply like it a lot and have no willpower – an addictive personality. Yeah, you can go through unpleasant withdrawal if you abuse it. The same can be said for a lot. But that’s what you get for being stupid.
    @agathagola
    You obviously don’t know how to do your job if you believe you have to shelter people to stop them from addiction. If that is the case, they won’t be able to function outside their immediate society without someone like you telling them how to live. Sounds like an unhealthy dependence that benefits someone else… Just like an addiction, doesn’t it?
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  • Bullawall
    Nov 18, 2012 - 4:24PM

    Get ready for a Headach you wont forget..

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  • A Pakistani
    Nov 19, 2012 - 9:48AM

    Admirable defensive attitude of a lot of alcohol protagonists.
    However, one thing is for sure, alcohol has clear side effects that really reduces a person’s potential performance.Recommend

  • agthagola
    Dec 26, 2012 - 7:16AM

    @Khurram:
    Bau Khurram, drinking alcohol my be your problem or the so called few of your Muslim friends who may drink. As far as I know overwhelmingly large majority of Muslims in Christian countries do not drink and do not go to bars.

    I know one Pakistani occionally use to go to bar but in bars he always told that he is from “india” and his name is “Mahdu lal”.

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  • agthagola
    Dec 26, 2012 - 7:27AM

    I hope the owner of this “Murree Brewery” drink himself and let his grown up chidlren (including his wife daugthers and sons) drink this poison day and night so the appreciation start from the family within.

    As far as I recall when I was in Pakistan only “non Muslims” could buy liquor legally. Even for non Muslims they had to apply for permit to buy alcohol. My friend told me that if somebody wat to drink then they have to hire their own christian to bring liquar for them.

    I think Murree Brewery is at present mostly serving the needs of our non Muslim brothers some of them like to get drunk at occisions.

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