Pakistan’s Legendary and Elusive Murree Beer
Beer connoisseurs and brew lovers across the globe are always searching for a pilsner or lager beer that represents the highest element of beer-dom: a great refreshing beer that has subtle yet deep flavors, has hints of hops but isn’t too hoppy, has a certain amount of carbonation but doesn’t taste of baking soda, has a clean finish without making one feel as though the beer is watered down. Finding such a beer is considered to be like finding the Holy Grail; because personal preference plays such a huge role in finding the perfect beer, nobody can really say there is such a thing as a “perfect” beer.
However, one such beer does exist, and it’s made in a country where pilsner and lager aficionados would least expect it. The one beer that brewmasters and consumers alike (well, those fortunate enough to get their hands on it) both claim is the world’s best is Murree Beer, which is made in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
While alcohol is forbidden in Islam, one must not forget that Pakistan is home to several religious minorities, all of whom have the right to drink. Furthermore, Pakistani citizens can apply for permits to purchase alcohol; the serving of alcohol to non-Muslim guests in private residences is allowed. However, these permits are not handed out like candy; they are difficult to come by. While the brewery is running at full capacity and can barely keep up with domestic demand, plans to expand are not in the future and due to the nation’s Islamic-based laws concerning alcohol, export of Murree beer was banned until earlier this year, when the brewery finally got a license to export to non-Muslim countries.
Pakistan is home to the Murree Brewery; one of the manufacturing units is in Rawalpindi while the other is in Hattar, in the country’s North West Frontier Province. Established in 1860 to meet the demand of British personnel living in the area around the town of Murree, the brewery also makes a world-class quality single-malt whisky.
Where Can You Get Murree Beer?
So the question is, if you’re one of the few people who will be lucky enough to get to Pakistan in the first place, where do you go to get your hands on what is arguably the best beer in the world?
This is where things can get a little tricky. If you’re visiting Pakistan as a regular tourist, you’ll probably need to go to a fancy hotel where they have a permit to sell alcohol. However, this may not be a great idea due to the political and social upheavals happening in the country. If you’re in Karachi, you might be able to find special liquor outlets which are quasi-legal and cater to foreigners who are working in the city. These can be difficult to find and you may need to enlist the help of a local friend.
Guest houses that cater to overseas and foreign engineers who work on telecommunications projects or other such projects are also legally allowed to sell beer to their residents. Again, most of these guest houses do not advertise and do not have signs posted outside; the only way you can find them is if you are in fact one of the foreign workers who has been sent by your company who has pre-arranged your accommodations or if you happen to be invited in by one of the residents to have a meal in the guest-house cafeteria.
Before going into the characteristics of Murree Beer, it must be said that when you do find Murree Beer in Pakistan, drink it discreetly in private; never drink alcohol in a public place. To do so is incredibly fool-hardy and is asking for more trouble than one can ever imagine.
Taste and Characteristics
One of the more popular beers is Murree’s Classic Lager, which is a European Pale Lager and has an alcohol content of 5.5%, which is quite strong considering most lagers in Europe weigh in at 4.9% to 5 %. Described as “premium beer”, it is smooth on the palate and is similar (some say superior) to classic European lagers.
Contributing to the outstanding character of Murree beers is the fact that all of the barley used is from Australia. According to the chief executive Isphanyar Bhandara “we don’t compromise on quality and the Australian barley is first class.”
Murree beers are part of the rare breed of lagers that are fantastic on their own and are also terrific with a wide variety of food. While one might be tempted to say that Murree beer is best with traditional Pakistani food such as seekh kebabs, chicken tikkas, beef curries and karahi chicken, it actually goes equally well with Chinese dishes such as steamed garlic chicken, hot and sour soup, and steamed buns. The old advertising jingle from the days of the Raj “Eat, drink and be Murree” certainly rings true as the beer adds another level of enjoyment to one’s food.
Crisp, smooth, light and subtle yet complex and refreshing, Murree beers are a delight to try, and with some continued good luck, the elusive famous beer of Pakistan’s Himalaya foothills will soon be making an appearance at a fine liquor store near you. As Mr. Bhandara says:
“Murree Brewery’s desire is to show the international community that Pakistan doesn’t have to be known as a country that exports terrorism, that this can be a country that exports beer.”
Tweet It! #MurreeBeer