Pakistan brewery produces Muslim world's first 20-year whisky
By Isambard Wilkinson in Rawalpindi
Last Updated: 1:29am GMT 26/02/2007
The Islamic republic of Pakistan has won the distinction of producing the Muslim world's first 20-year-old malt whisky.
The Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi, founded in 1860 to make ale and spirits for soldiers during the British Raj, is the only producer of whisky and beer in a constitutionally Muslim country.
Murree's malt will be true to its name of 'Rarest'
Despite a torrid history in which it has been burnt down by Muslim protesters and temporarily shut down in an Islamist purge, the Murree brewery has survived against the odds and has previously produced celebrated eight and 12-year-old single malts.
"Few distilleries in the world, even the high-end ones in Scotland, produce 20-year-old malts," said Minnoo Bhandara, the Parsee businessman whose family has run the brewery since the creation of Pakistan at the partition of British India in 1947.
Officially, the 20-year malt will be true to its name of "Rarest".
Under Pakistani law it cannot be drunk by 97 per cent of the country and it cannot be exported.
But the production of the rare whisky has coincided with an unprecedented debate in Pakistan about the prohibition on drinking alcohol. In 1977 the former prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, bowed to the demands of Islamic political parties and imposed an alcohol ban on Muslims.
Since then the brewery has officially been catering for the three per cent of Pakistan's population that comprises of the non-Muslim communities of Christians, Hindus and those of Mr Bhandara's Zoroastrian faith.
However, the ingenuity of thirsty Pakistanis means that rather a lot of the 660,000 gallons of beer that Murree produces every year and the 110,000 gallons of whisky that is stored in its cellars reaches a Muslim clientele.
"I think 99 per cent of my customers are Muslim," said Mr Bhandara, who is an Oxford-educated MP.
The official punishment sanctioned by the Koran of 80 lashes with an oil-soaked whip has never been applied.
The unexpected debate on drinking was sparked earlier this month by Ali Akbar Wains, a maverick parliamentarian, who suggested in the national assembly that by banning the "minor evil" of alcohol, the government had helped the "major evil" of drugs to flourish in the country.
The call to legalise drinking alcohol was taken up by the likes of Mr Bhandara, who has long battled against the so-called "Teetotalitarian" state.
Mr Bhandara said that the debate was "one of the best things that has happened to this country." But he sees little hope of progress. "The subject of drinking will stir up a hornet's nest," he said, adding that Pakistan will maintain its ban on exporting alcohol.
In the coming months Murree beer will be available in Indian restaurants in Britain under the slogan "Have a Murree With Your Curry" after a deal struck with a Belgian brewer to produce the drink under licence.
Well, to paraphrase and old Irish joke,
Maybe Allah created whiskey to keep the Muslims from taking over the world?