Tasting some malts
June 15, 2013
Introduction to Whisky – Part I
September 3, 2013

Kasauli Distillery

Kasauli Distillery : Mohan Meakin Limited

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Picture 1: Kasauli Distillery

Does the above picture take you back in time? Does your imagination tingle in anticipation of how it looks today? You may be thoroughly disappointed….this distillery stands frozen in time! Photoshop has some role to play in the above picture for the nostalgic appearance, but let me assure you the distillery is not very different from what it was when established in 1855! The picture was taken on 4th of July 2013 when I visited the famed Kasauli Distillery of Mohan Meakin.

A near perfect location for the distillery…..foothills of the Himalayas, abundant spring water, climate which can give the Scottish isles a run for their money and a master blender aged 92 years brimming with experience.  What a blend!!

The history around the establishment of the brewery and its origin is quite hazy and there are various contradictory versions. One version states that this brewery was set up in the year 1820 by Edward Dyer (Wikipedia also states this) and later was converted to the distillery by 1850 but the dates don’t match records. Nigel Collett in his book “The Butcher of Amritsar” quotes an alternative about the establishment of this distillery. Another version states that this brewery was an attempt by the local town folk; which failed in the 1840’s. This was identified by Edward Dyer who took over and changed the fortunes of the brewery by producing Lion beer which was in fact Asia’s first branded beer. The brewery was later shifted to Solan and the distillery at Kasauli came into existence, the latter version seems to be the most accurate considering the chronology of events in the absence of proper records. The company name has undergone some change to keep pace with the change of ownership, legal and political requirements of the time.

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  • Dyer & Co – Initial name
  • Dyer Meakin & Co.Ltd - A joint venture between H.G Meakin & E. Dyer
  • Dyer Meakin Breweries Ltd – A fall out of the Burma separation from India
  • Mohan Meakin Breweries Ltd- Post buy out of Majority stake by N.N Mohan
  • Mohan Meakin Ltd- 1980

Evidently what seems to be the only recent ‘infrastructure’ addition to the structure of the distillery was the name board!

What seems to be relatively clear is that ‘Edward Dyer’ was the gentleman who got the brewing and distilling equipment to Kasauli. This included the copper pot stills, a steam boiler and a malt crushing machine. I kept wondering how such equipment would have been hauled from the nearest port of Kolkata (Bengal) to the distillery located in the state of Himachal Pradesh;  1700 Kilometers away, 6000ft above the sea level in 1850’s!

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Picture 2: Steam Boiler 1906.

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Picture 3: Malt Crushing Machine

The brewery has a history which states that it began with brewing of ale and beer (which was deemed impossible in India at that time) the attempt by E. Dyer was largely successful and the brewery gave Asia  its first widely accepted beer under the brand name of  ‘Lion’ beer. Shimla a nearby hill station was very popular with the British soldiers who created the demand for the ale and beer given the climate of tropical India. The distillery even today reflects the design and craftsmanship of the British. The “Mash Tun” is made of cast steel.

The Mash Tun

Picture 4: The Mash Tun

Picture 4 The Mash Tun Rocking Device

Picture 4: The Mash Tun Rocking Device

                                                              The narrow lane and steep steps leading to the malt crushing room are the only indications of the modest origins. The distillery has been maintained with utmost care and in fact looked like it had a fresh coat of paint recently. The still room is simply magnificent, and the copper stills as you can see in the below pictures are glorious! They have a total of four pot stills, all functional and being used for manufacturing of various sprits produced here.

Picture-5-Pot-Stills (1) Picture 5: Pot Stills

Picture 5 Pot Stillsa

                                                 Picture 6 Pot Stills Picture 5: Pot Stills                                                                                                                         Picture 6: Pot Stills The massive wooden tubs in the receiving room, used for storing the spirit make a remarkable sight. All these ‘Vat’s’ are from the early 1900 when the distillery was ‘modernized’. You can see a couple of these tubs have been replaced with steel which is a demand from the current market. Capacity of these tubs is close to 26000 Liters each. Picture-8-Storage-Vats-at-Mohan-Meakin Picture Storage Vats at Mohan Meakin                                             Picture 10 Storage Vats at Mohan Meakin                                                               

Picture 8, 9 &10: Storage Vats at Mohan Meakin

The distillery at Kasauli has a total of six mature rooms. These storage rooms have an earthen floor and casks are stored in the most natural way possible. Picture-11-Mature-Room-1-at-Kasauli-Distillery (1)

 Picture 11: Mature Room 1 at Kasauli Distillery

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 Picture 12: Oak Casks used for whisky at Kasauli Distillery

The mature rooms are quite large and have wooden rails to roll the barrels over the distance. The production manager Mr. D. Nagar  who was my guide for the distillery tour quoted the “Angels Share” to be a modest 2-3% annually which is very comfortable in comparison to the 10-11% faced by Amrut  in Bangalore. The same is also maintained by spraying the room often with water to keep the temperature in check. Most of the barrels used at the distillery today are ex-bourbon casks imported from USA. Picture-13-Water-being-sprayed-on-the-casks-to-keep-the-temperature-under-check (1)

                             

Picture 13: Water being sprayed on the casks to keep the temperature under check The majority of the spirit produced in this distillery is used for the manufacture of different brands of Whisky produced at Mohan Meakin. Some of the spirit is also used for “Old Monk” dark rum which is one of the most popular dark rums in the country. Retired Colonel Rathaur who is at the helm of this distillery, disclosed that this is one of the few types of rum in India that uses malt in production. The blend for this rum is aged for seven years before bottling. Rest of the spirit is used in the production of the other brands of the distillery. Some of the brands that Mohan Meakin produces today are listed below: Golden Eagle Beer, Diplomat Deluxe Blended Whisky, Black Night Premium Blended Malt Whisky, Top Brass, Golden Eagle Whisky, Kings Castle Classic Blend Whisky,  Old Monk Gold Reserve (Aged 12 Years), Colonel’s Special Whisky, Summer Hall Finest Premium Whisky, Cellar 117  Deluxe Whisky, Big Ben London Dry Gin, Solan Number 1 Full Bodied Malt Whisky. The Master Blender of the distillery is Mr. P. N Sapra who introduced Aristocrat Whisky in India, aged 92 years gives each of these brands twists and turns deemed necessary. As one can see the range of products and brands being produced at the distillery is formidable.  The strategy of Mohan Meakin Ltd does not allow for advertisement of its brands, the belief if I may quote correctly states that “If the products and the prices are good, it will sell!” A philosophy I cannot fathom with today’s aggressive marketing blitz by competitors. Coming to the whisky of interest for me, which is malt whisky; the brands which are popular to an extent are listed below. Please note “popularity” is in comparison to the other brands of the distillery.
  1. Solan No. 1 – Full Bodied Malt Whisky
  2. Colonel Special – Scotch Blended Malt Whisky
  3. Cellar 117 – Blended Malt Whisky
  4. Solan Imperial – Premium Malt Whisky
Again the grouse being that most of the stated brands are not available for sale in different parts of India, so distribution to other countries remains impractical as of now. Solan No. 1 whisky is one that clearly stands out of the list. A largely popular whisky of the yesteryears in India, before the advent of scotch and brands such as Peter Scot & Royal Challenge this whisky dominated the market. Aggressive marketing and distribution gradually and eventually has eroded the market share and the whisky is now found in a select few states of India and remains as a standard supply to the defense forces through the canteens. This whisky, for a 750cl bottle costs Rs 280/- to Rs 320/- depending on the taxes and place of purchase; which arguably may be the cheapest malt whisky of the world (5$ USD and I would be more than happy to be proven wrong!). It remains one of the few malt whiskies around produced in India as most of the others are produced from sugarcane molasses and gain spirit blends. The whisky is created from a blend which is aged for an average of four years has sweet notes to it, very malty mouthfeel similar to that of a few Bruichladdich versions which taste like porridge to me.  Since there is no peat involved the production of the whisky it is almost devoid of any flavors of smoke or peat. Finish remains short with some bitters. Now for the most interesting part of the trip, the quest for GOLD! I did read some time back about Mohan Meakin preparing to create a Single Malt Whisky and that it would be called “Solan Gold”. I was not sure about the source of this information but the thought was indeed interesting. As mentioned afore it has all the right ingredients for a great distillery and certainly history that most in India cannot challenge. Yes the story was true! Gold was being created and on the verge of entering the Indian market. A Single Malt produced in Solan! Wow this was something big! Col Rathaur and his team were kind enough to let me sample some of the whisky and it was wonderful. Close on the heels of the Solan No. 1 this one was sweet, marvelously thick, lot of wood and just a hint of brine. The nose was a tad weak and I felt that the malt which is to be bottled 43% Vol of sprit did not do justice; this one would have been a winner at cask strength. Nevertheless the whisky was good and dangerously drinkable; Solan Gold is a NAS (No Age Statement) whisky, the age when revealed to me by Mr. Nagar and Col Rathaur reaffirmed my belief that whisky in the subcontinent mature faster. The whisky was aged for four years at the minimum. The nose of the whisky develops if left aside for a while but the malt and rich wood remain the key notes. I also got to taste the blend for Solan No. 1 which was given to me straight from the cask! Now this was in a different league. The whisky was simply outstanding. Surprisingly this version had almost no nose to talk about. The seaweed and brine powering the first mouth and the thick marvelous whisky exploded on the palate with sweetness mixed with the high concentration of alcohol (The blend was estimated to be at 65%-68%). Again the whisky develops a little nose after a few minutes exposed and then the sprit strength is made obvious. This was a winner and I kept wondering why would anyone want to power this down? I was gently reminded by the label on the bottle that the permissible alcohol strength in India for spirits stands at 43% with some exceptions. This whisky almost reminded me of the Glenfarclas NAS 105 C.S. Very good indeed. Picture-14-With-Col.-Rathaur-C

            Picture 14: With Col. Rathaur (C.E.O of Kasauli distillery), tasting the malts from the distillery

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     Picture 15: Col. Rathaur with Mr. D. Nagar the production manager holding the new release” Solan Gold”

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