#52Drinks52Weeks – Old Monk

This is going to be the only video you’ll ever need to watch to learn it all about the Unofficial National Drink of India – Old Monk


Not many drinks in India have a legacy going back to the British Raj. The story begins in the 1830s when two Englishmen started India’s first few breweries – Edward Dyer and H. G. Meakin. They operated independently till 1887 and then merged. By 1889, they had over 25 breweries and distilleries under their belt in Simla, Solan, Lucknow, and even Mandalay, in what is now Myanmar.


Come 1947, when India earned its independence, and the British left, Mr. N. N. Mohan took over the reigns in 1949 officially. Coming in to India, he setup camp at Lucknow initially.

Though he had a massive 250 acres industrial plan in today’s Ghaziabad, named after the family, called Mohan Nagar, which today has its own industrial estate, hospitals, schools, and a metro station. Contrary to popular beliefs the first bottle of Old Monk was distilled in Lucknow by his son Col. V. N. Mohan!!

In 1958, Mr. N. N. Mohan, who was then Member of Parliament, put in an application to have Mohan Nagar allotted its own post code. Official approval was received and 201007 was allotted.


That’s true. After the first tasting on 1st November, 1954, the product was brought in the market and that’s what the bottle says as well – Estd in 1955. And not much has changed since then. Still a guarded secret family-owned recipe, same bottle, cap, and label. It’s a column-still distilled, 100% molasses-based rum, with some cane juice used as well.


Three things be said about the label – The name, XXX, and Vatted. 

Rums would travel around the world on ships in vats. Any vat having made a trip to Europe was marked with an X. Thus, XXX meant three trips, which at that time was the highest quality level. though Old Monk never travelled in ships, the XXX on the labels today denote a quality standard, and hence the term vatted as well!

Yet, it’s worth noting that the youngest spirit in the blend is a 7 Year Old rum.


As to the name itself, the story shared by the family goes that Mr. N. N. Mohan was highly impressed and inspired by the various liqueurs he encountered from Italy. He later realised that it were the monks producing them. And, he decided that whenever he would make a tipple, he will have it named after them. The term ‘Old’ was added to further emphasise on the ageing and quality proficiency of the spirit.

Bottle inspired by the head of an Italian Monk

The family categorically denies any links to the story published on Wikipedia pertaining to its nomenclature. There’s neither any connection with the monks living in the Indian hills, nor with Gumnami Baba, who basically is said to be Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Glad we got the real story out!!


Probably two changes have come since its beginning.

One, there were pictures of vats on label in the earlier designs, that’s gone. The family says this is all thanks to the ever-altering, cryptic excise rules of Indian states.

The change of name from ‘Dyer Meakin‘ to ‘Mohan Meakin‘ in 1966. The story goes that Pt. Nehru, on his way to Shimla, saw the Solan Distillery under the group, and was intrigued to visit. However, at the gates of the facility read an imposing board with the name Dyer on it. It’s imperative to note that Edward Dyer, one of the two British brewers who started the setup, was also the father of General Reginald Dyer who ordered the shootings at the Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. Over 10,000 Indians lost their lives in that tragic affair. Owing to this, not only Pt Nehru not visit the facility he also urged the family to reconsider the name. And, the family obliged, changing it to its current name.


What makes Old Monk a management case study is that they’ve never used advertising to create sales of brand value. Yet, even today, in a diminishing dark rum global market, it sells over 8 million 9 litres cases annually. It remains the most exported rum from India. 

The company also produces Solan Whisky, and Old Monk 10,000 Super Beer that’s only available in certain markets. You’ll also find some Old Monk RTDs and flavoured variants of the rum itself. However, if you fail at that, you’ll sure an empty bottle at someone’s house with money plant growing in it. Then, take a pause, and let the legacy and nostalgia set in

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