These passionate eulogies for a maker of an alcoholic drink were somewhat unprecedented. For one thing, in India, drinking is still a taboo; perhaps not for the millenials, but they prefer imported whiskies or vodkas, not home-grown rum, considered to be old people’s drink.
A quick look at the age and demographic of those who mourned for Brig Mohan explains the phenomenon. It was a generation who during their times as students grew up on a steady supply of Old Monk as the go-to alcoholic beverage during parties which are a part of student life. The reason was two-fold. It was the only made-in-India drink which was reasonably priced, and which also tasted good. (Other options were all imported foreign brands; it was before whisky and vodka became the trendy drink.)
Literally, not Amul, but Old Monk was the taste of India. And this loyalty remained to a large extent.
It’s indeed a testament of Brig Mohan’s legacy and his brand building based on quality. He famously refused to advertise for the drink, saying that its quality is its own advertisement, and today, with a generation of Indians remembering him, he has been proven right.
Although the iconic rum was launched by his father, Narendra Nath Mohan, in 1954 and brought to prominence by his brother Colonel VR Mohan, it was Brig Mohan who made it into the instantly recognised and largest-selling brand in India.
Before Indian single malts came into the picture, Old Monk was the one of the most recognised brand available in all foreign liquor stores and airport duty shops across the world. Until 2012, Old Monk was undisputedly the No 1 rum brand, but began to slide in volume, and lost its top position to other brands such as McDowell’s Celebration Rum by USL.
However, the slide has not dimmed the charm of Boodha Padri (as fondly called so by its fans) and the iconic squat bottle it comes in.
So, when in 2015, rumours of Old Monk being shut down spread, the fans took to social media to express their displeasure. The manufacturers, in response, strongly denied such rumours and said that Old Monk will be the last product to take a hit even if the sales go down across the board as it is their flagship and a priority for the organisation.
The man behind Old Monk
Brig Mohan took over the reins of Mohan Meakin, which manufactures Old Monk, from his elder brother Colonel Ved Ratan Mohan, who is credited with the creation of Old Monk Rum as we know it, in 1973. Currently, Hemant Mohan and Vinay Mohan, among others from the Mohan family, manage the company.
The kicker in the tale is the man himself was a teetotaller. Despite being a part of a family whose primary business was distilleries and manufacturing alcohol, he was said to be a spiritual man who hardly ever drank. The name Old Monk suited him as well.
Until 2002, Old Monk was the undisputed single brand leader in the entire branded spirits market in India without any advertisement. How? Its taste was its best advertisement, said Mohan and refused any advertisement as long as he was the chairman.
Speaking of taste, the credit must go to Scotsman Edward Abraham Dyer (father of Colonel Reginald Edward Harry Dyer of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre), an enterprising brewer, who also established the Murree Brewery, today Pakistan’s largest producer of alcoholic products. He had a special knack for finding suitable source of water for making good alcohol. He found one such place in Himachal Pradesh and in 1855 set up a brewery in Kasauli to cater to the British requirement for cheap beer. This brewery changed hands and became Mohan Meakin. To this day, the water for Old Monk is sourced from the springs of Karol Mountain in Solan and the distinctive taste of the rum is Vanilla.
NN Mohan acquired the company in 1949 and its company was renamed Mohan Meakin Breweries in 1966. Old Monk was launched on 19 December 1954.
At one point, Mohan Meakin was one of India’s largest companies. At one point, Old Monk sold about eight million bottles annually. It has been the biggest Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) brand for many years.
Old Monk was ranked 5th among Indian spirits brands at the Impact International's 2008 list of Top 100 Brands At Retail Value with a retail value of USD 240 million. (Courtesy news agencies)