Kasauli Distillery : Mohan Meakin Limited
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.
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!
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.
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, 9 &10: Storage Vats at Mohan MeakinThe 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
Picture 12: Oak Casks used for whisky at Kasauli DistilleryThe 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 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.
Picture 14: With Col. Rathaur (C.E.O of Kasauli distillery), tasting the malts from the distillery
Picture 15: Col. Rathaur with Mr. D. Nagar the production manager holding the new release” Solan Gold”
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