Old Monk's creators, Mohan Meakin family share some treasured memories
The men behind India's most loved rum brand are -hold your breath -teetotallers. In the week of the death of its longest serving managing director, Brigadier Kapil Mohan, the Mohan Meakin family shares treasured memories
Old Monk being bottled at a Mohan Meakin brewery. PIC/Getty Images
On January 6, following the demise of Brigadier Kapil Mohan, widely known as the creator of India's best known rum, Old Monk, there came a flurry of posts about the nostalgia value the spirit entails. Till date, it's perhaps the only Indian alcohol brand to have acquired a cult status not just on home ground, but the world over as well. Old timers will tell you how people would gift a bottle of Old Monk back in the day, especially to friends abroad, as the bottle with its distinct shape and label was seen as a prized possession. A distinct subculture wafts around the vanilla notes of this dark rum, a culture of people who lost their alcoholic virginity to this spirit. For many Indians, it's the drink they first tried out in college. And, while some stuck on, others grew out of it, while still others continue to linger on the periphery.
Hemant Mohan (left) with Brigadier Kapil Mohan (centre) and Vinay Mohan
Brigadier Mohan, the man running the show as the company's longest serving managing director, was fondly referred to, by his nephews as "Kapil dad". Speaking to us from Delhi, in a telephonic interview, Vinay Mohan, director of the company says, "He was the senior most member of the family, and therefore the head of the family. Our dad [Sukhdev Mohan] would always tell us how Brigadier Mohan was our elder father, and so, he became our 'Kapil dad'." Vinay's brother Hemant, took over as managing director of the company three years ago, while Brigadier Mohan let go of all his executive posts three-and-a-half years ago. "His health was not permitting any longer, although he continued to give his inputs."
Colonel VR Mohan, who breathed his last in his 40s at the helm of Mohan Meakin, was the creator of Old Monk, and not his brother, Brig. Kapil Mohan, who took over the mantle in 1973, as was widely reported in the media after his demise on January 6. PIC/Rocky Mohan
While many argue that most of Old Monk's glory is relegated to nostalgia, Vinay tells us how this has always been a brand that has stuck to old-school ways, be it in training its employees or marketing its products. "When Hemant joined the company in 1990, and I, in 1994, initially, for months together, all we were asked to do is spend seven hours daily, in bottling plants, just watching the process. I remember having questions about what my designation and purpose in the company was supposed to be. But, the message was: You are not children of the management, you are just like everyone else who needs to learn the process from a grass-roots level. Today, we understand the value of that," says the 46-year-old.
While Brigadier Mohan was a teetotaller, being so seems to run in the family. "He, my father and grandfather were all teetotallers, and so am I. I was never pushed to be one, I just never felt like trying it. So, yes, you could say I have never tasted Old Monk." Hemant only drinks socially, says his brother. "Both he and Kapil dad had a nose for quality, the ability to distinguish between a smooth and a coarse blend."
Before Brigadier Kapil Mohan
While Brigadier Kapil Mohan is touted as the man behind Old Monk, few know that its real creator was, in fact, his elder brother. Delhi-based food writer and blogger, Sourish Bhattacharyya tells us, "It was actually Brigadier Kapil Mohan's elder brother, Colonel Ved Ratan Mohan, who gave birth to it. And, he was a flamboyant character, a Vijay Mallya of his times, you could say. He wore many hats -he was a Rajya Sabha MP, the mayor of Lucknow, chairman of Censor Board of Film Certification and a favourite of Mrs Indira Gandhi. He was honoured with both the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan in his short life [the Colonel died at the age of 45] and his home was known to come alive with soirees attended by film personalities and politicians," Bhattacharyya says. It was Ved's father, Narendranath Mohan, who created Mohan Meakin and launched Old Monk in 1954. "Ved being the eldest son, inherited the business in 1969. After his untimely death in 1973, it was his younger brother, Brigadier Kapil Mohan, who took over the business," he adds.
Ved's son, Rocky Mohan, remembers those glory days, when he would tag along with his father during the latter's meetings with the Late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. "I lost my father when I was 19, and naturally, Brigadier Kapil Mohan being the senior-most member in the family, became a mentor and one would follow in his footsteps," says the 65-year-old, who officially disassociated himself from the family business in 2005.
Kapil Mohan was the one who really took forward the brand's legacy, setting up numerous bottling plants and franchises. Old Monk has always steered clear of marketing and advertising, an approach, industry watchers believe, to be detrimental to its growth in recent years. "Kapil dad had a clear vision that he wanted no advertising around the brand, as that is not permissible by law. For him, it was of utmost importance that no law is broken. That is how Mohan Meakin has always functioned," Vinay says, adding, "And, if you look at the figures in the past three years, we have only been growing, be it in West Bengal or Maharashtra. The drooping markets in the south were because of the changing policies in those states, but, now we are re-growing there too."
Rocky believes the modern mantras of marketing don't apply to Old Monk. "The brand became iconic on its own steam, we never sat and analysed what made it so. The combination of an iconic bottle, an iconic label and taste worked. Brigadier Mohan was very dedicated in maintaining the standard of the brand, the efficacy, ensuring there was no play around the product. I think that's what kept the brand unchanged."
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