Breweries can be deadly places: invisible, choking gases,
boiling liquids, whirling machinery, fires, falls from great
heights for the unwary. But no brewery can have offered more ways
to die unpleasantly than the one in what was British Baluchistan,
from deadly diseases to murderous tribesmen to devastating
earthquakes.

The brewery was opened in 1886 by the British-owned Murree
Brewery Company just outside the village of Kirani (or Kerani),
5,640ft/1,720 metres up on the slopes of the Chiltan range of
mountains, four miles to the west of Quetta, capital of
Baluchistan, and 750 miles from Rawalpindi, on what was then the
north-west edge of British India. The town had only come under
British control ten years earlier, but was strategically important
as a guardpost on the road into and out of Afghanistan, and the
Quetta cantonment grew to cover 15 square miles, the home of two
British infantry regiments and other military units. The brewery
company paid a local landowner 12,000 rupees for the right to use a
spring below the base of the mountains for brewing water. Because
the brewery was built on the side of the hills, most of the
production flow was gravity-powered, though the spring water had to
be pumped to the top storey.

The
Quetta brewery. See if you can spot two brewery employees …

The Murree Brewery Company had been founded in 1860 by a group
of army officers and civilians to brew in Murree, a British Army
sanatorium town in the north-east of the Punjab and 30 miles from
Rawalpindi, on a site 6,100ft/1,865 metres up, and thus cold enough
to allow brewing to take place at a time when effective
refrigeration was not yet available. The company hired a young
brewer named Henry Whymper in 1866 from Burton upon Trent, and
Whymper proved to be both an excellent brewer and an excellent
manager, steering the Murree Brewing Company to first place among
half a dozen or so British-run brewery companies in India supplying
ale and beer to British troops and British expats. By1886 it was
running six breweries on the sub-continent, at Murree; Kasauli,
also in the Himalayan foothills; Nuwara Eliya in Ceylon; Bangalore,
in Mysore; Ootacamund, in the Nilgiri Hills, South India; and
Quetta.

The Quetta brewery must rank as one of the most difficult
postings of any brewer’s career. According to Henry Whymper the
sun was “so intensely hot, even in the winter months, that a
brewer has to wear a sun helmet whilst at the same time he has to
clothe himself in a fur-lined coat to protect himself from the
biting cold which there is in the shade … The cold which is
occasionally experienced is too great to make it safe to employ
much steam power, and although the Company, in the first instance,
erected a steam plant, it had to be replaced by the open boiling
system; pipes, pumps, and injectors, steam pressure gauges, and
blow-off cocks were all frozen up, and burst in the most impartial
manner.”

The weather was not the only problem. Disease, including
dysentery, cholera and typhoid fever, was common in the district:
Agnes McGowan, the wife of the Quetta brewery manager, died from
typhoid in August 1891. One August evening in 1899 the brewery was
attacked by a band of 25 to 30 armed raiders later identified as
Brahui tribesmen from Kalat to the south. Five brewery workers,
including coopers and carters, were killed immediately, “being
shot or hacked to pieces,” with six more dying of their wounds
later. The raiders were apparently scared off only after the
brewery manager, Mr Stranack, caused the brewery bell to be rung as
an alarm. After the raid, arms and ammunition were issued to the
brewery staff in case of a repeat attack, barbed wire was placed
around the premises, and the workers’ quarters were surrounded by
a high wall with a guarded entrance.

Spot
the typo …

The attack did not hold back the brewery’s growth: output of
“all kinds of ale and stout” rose from an average of 6,730
imperial barrels a year in the 1890s to 9,645 barrels in 1903.
Around 100 workmen were employed at the brewery, with the skilled
workers a mixture of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims from the Punjab, all
earning more than they would have done at home. The brewery used
9,000 “maunds” (300 tons) of locally grown barley, and 12½
tons of hops, imported from England, California and Bavaria. More
than 60 per cent of the beer produced was sold to the military, but
by 1903 the brewery was selling its ales and stout as far away as
Hyderabad and Karachi, some 340 to 360 miles away over the
mountains.

A new 50-quarter maltings was erected in 1904: the dry climate
of Quetta proved extremely suitable for malting, but it was
impossible to malt during the summer “owing to the exceedingly
high temperatures.” During World War One the brewery was
“strained to its utmost capacity” to meet the requirements of
the “abnormally large” number of British troops stationed in
Sind and Baluchistan, despite its by now 20-quarter plant, fitted
with “thoroughly up-to-date machinery and plant,” being able to
turn out between 1,000 and 1,200 hogsheads a month during the cold
season, though output saw “a considerable reduction” from May
to early September, when “the water attains too high a
temperature”. In 1920 the brewery was making pale ales, champagne
ale (“a liquor of light gravity”) and stout for bottling, as
well as ales “specially suitable for canteen and private
customers”.

The brewery’s end came in the early hours of May 31 1935, when
Quetta was hit by a massive earthquake estimated at 7.7 Mw. Some
20,000 of its inhabitants are believed to have been killed,
including brewery employees, much of the city was left flattened,
and many of the surrounding villages destroyed. The brewery site
was among the multitudes of buildings left in ruins, and the Murree
Brewery Company declined to rebuild it.

By now the Murree Brewery Company had concentrated its brewing
efforts in the brewery at Topi, one mile outside Rawalpindi, that
it had opened in 1889. After the birth of the new Muslim state of
Pakistan, British and Hindu directors of the company left the
country, and brewing ceased temporarily at the Rawalpindi brewery.
But the new owner of the Murree Brewery Company, a member of the
Parsi religious minority named Peshotan Dhanjibhoy Bhandara, who
bought enough shares to take control by 1949 after having been
distributor for the company’s beers, was determined to keep
going, and production of beer and spirits eventually restarted.

Bhandara died in 1961, and the company passed to his son Minon.
The brewery was closed down for two years in 1977-9 by the
Pakistani government in an attempt to appease Islamic hardliners,
but a court ruled that, with the owners being Parsis, the closure
contravened minority rights. Minon Bhandara died in a car crash in
2008, and the company is now run by his son, Isfanyar Bhandara.

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