Pakistan is a conservative Muslim society. Despite my own wishful thinking it is no Turkey. (I promise a Pakistani Ataturk will be born one-day!)
Thankfully, however, Pakistan is also no Saudi Arabia.
In the large urban areas women are reasonably well integrated into the work force. The head to toe burqa (veil) is typically only worn by Pathan women in the ultra-conservative Northwest Frontier Province. Alcohol is quite easily available – legally to non-Muslims and 'quasi-legally' to Muslims.
This story is about another unusual part of Pakistan's heritage.
Murree Brewery Company Limited is one of Pakistan's oldest publicly listed companies and is involved in the manufacturing and sale of alcoholic beverages.
It was established in 1860 near the hill station town of Murree, approximately 30 kilometres northwest of Islamabad. (Islamabad, of course, did not exist at the time.) The company expanded in the late 1800s by establishing breweries in Rawalpindi and Quetta.
Murree Brewery beer is historically of a high quality and maintains those standards even today. Its first international award was secured for product excellence at the Philadelphia Exhibition in 1876.
The company is known not just for its beer but also makes whiskey, gin and vodka. In fact, the company has the distinction of being the first Muslim manufacturer of 12 and 8 year old single malt Scotch whiskeys. A limited 6,000 bottles of a'rare' 20 year malt was also produced a few years ago.
Whiskey aficionados may note what Jim Murray, author of the annual 'Whiskey Bible' said of the 8 year old malt, "Not only does Murree's 8 years old Single Matured Malts compare favourably, it is much better than a lesser Scotch malt, which comes nowhere near matching this Whisky's crisp and delicate maltiness".
It may be some time for the international beer and whiskey drinking world to appreciate the company's products – the company reported annual sales of just (approx.) USD 23 million in its 2008 financial year.
While exporting alcohol from Pakistan is illegal, it is said that the smuggling trade in the lawless Pak-Afghan border region is not limited to weapons and terrorists.
Meanwhile, I can tell you that as you read this article a Pakistani (or Afghani maybe?) is enjoying a cool glass of Murree's beer distinctively brewed from Pakistani six row barley, malts and Bavarian hop products.