Frozen hands, roaring bonfires and a fairly queasy morning-after. There are some scents that whisk you away to a magical memory wonderland, and the warm, slightly cloying smell of Old Monk does it for me every time. This beautiful dark rum means many different things to different people but for most of us, it’s the constantly flowing undercurrent of our youth. It’s long been the drink of choice for India’s student population thanks to its low price point, but unlike other cheap alcohol it managed to be affordable without tasting like drain cleaner (here’s looking at you Romanov). On Saturday, 6 the man behind the iconic drink, Brigadier (retd) Kapil Mohan, passed away at the age of 88. Today, as we mourn his death it’s time to take a look back and explore the history of the drink that has become so much a part of ours, as individuals and as a country.
It all started in the hills of Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh where an entrepreneurial Scotsman, Edward Dyer saw the demand for cheap beer among British troops and in 1855 set up his own brewery which became famous for Lion Beer. In 1949 it was taken over by NM Mohan and rebranded as Mohan Meakin, the name we know today as India’s leaders in alcohol, namely a beautiful vatted, 7 year aged dark rum called Old Monk. Today, very little has changed, Mohan was not a fan of change and the water is still sourced from the same natural spring as 150 years ago.
The drink quickly rose through the ranks to become the most popular rum in the country and the 3rd best selling rum in the world. This meteoric rise was all down to word of mouth, Old Monk has never run advertising or publicity campaigns and it’s comforting to see a brand so confident in their own quality they don’t feel the need to shove it down our throats at every opportunity.
Though it went through a slight rough patch a few years ago with people convinced they were due to go out of business, they prevailed and it’s lucky for us that they did. Part of Monk’s charm is that it’s so universally available, from a roadside dhaba to a five-star restaurant, it’s always a dependable, familiar face to turn to and hopefully always will be. So tonight pick up a bottle (or two) and let’s all raise a glass to Brigadier Kapil Mohan, the visionary who shaped the face of Indian alcohol and will always have our unwavering gratitude for the gift that is Old Monk.