Captain Udit is an ex-merchant navy professional. Outside his professional life, he likes to unwind by taking his family for long drives to weekend destinations around the city. His other interests include reading and playing pocket billiards at the local club. When armed with the cue he strongly believes in the saying “Where you look is where the ball will go”. To give him company are his friends with high intellect and two common interests. The game and a few pegs of rum.
Last Friday both of us got done with an important client meet that went off really well. We clinched new businesses and revelled in high spirits to celebrate the evening. He asked me to accompany him to the club that would give me an opportunity to network with his buddies. I was more than happy to join and meet them. We settled down with the initial pleasantries at the table reserved for the group. Since they were regulars at the club, the manager knew their taste.
The waiters arrived at our table with a few glasses, an ice tub and chilled coke cans. He then returned with a large bottle filled with a dark brown copper coloured liquid. The textured shape reminiscent of a monk standing is what intrigued me the most. The label read Old Monk. The name reminded me about how almost every single celebration or event that I grew up around was never without people addicted to this drink. This day was no different. The group that was already at the edge of their seats could be seen flinging themselves towards the empty glasses. Udit did the honours to those who came forward. A few added soda and a dash of lime while others were good to go with the carbonated accompaniment. I gave them company with my favourite mix of fresh lime soda.
The bar was stocked with a variety of spirits, wines and even champagnes. Guests seated on high stools enjoyed watching the football league with beer placed in front of them. Some preferred to rest at a cosy corner in the company of vodka and tonic water. Coming back to my table, by now I could see each revel into their drinks. I asked one amongst the group about their unanimous choice despite there being so much on offer.
He took a gulp, smiled and said Old Monk is a pure Indian drink by Indians for Indians with a taste like none other. He was introduced to the drink about two decades ago and been a devout follower ever since like countless others who loath to drink any other rum. He then insisted that I tried a peg.
The experience above is resonated by millions. With humble beginnings around the Himalayan plains by producers Mohan Meakin Ltd. (MML) more than half a century ago, still has loyalists who swear by it. Old Monk is produced in five different avatars bearing the names Supreme, XXX, Gold Reserve, Deluxe and White. The world knows it by various names – Purana Sadhu, Desi Dhavaai, Sadhu Baba and so on.
It is Asia’s oldest vatted, dark and blended rum aged between 7 and 12 years. An aroma caged in a hard body that pampers one’s senses and an aftertaste of vanilla that keeps you going for more. Be it a premium bar, luxury hotel or decrepit liquor joint, procuring an Old Monk is never difficult. Such is its penetration within India at an extremely affordable price point. Till date without a dime spent on marketing campaigns, advertisements or promotions the brand has already achieved seen phenomenal success worldwide. The only promotion that ever happens is through word of mouth by Old Monk aficionados.
In today’s age with the onslaught from competition, though Old Monk had the first mover advantage, it no longer sets the sales charts on fire as against what it used to a decade ago. Dwindling sales have sent volumes down. Add to this there is also a perceived shift of taste across consumer demographics. There was a time when Old Monk would appeal to all age groups and considered a drink even when there was no reason to celebrate. With India witnessing an economic boom, the youth is perennially allured towards premium and erudite spirits like Vodka and Beer. They also enjoying the status of an all day drink as against Rum that veers more towards being an evening drink. As for the elders and senior citizens, whiskey has taken over Rum as a status symbol especially when it comes to corporate get-togethers and formal hangouts.
Old Monk also saw a price cut on an already inexpensive bottle which gave its nearest competitor time to take notice and up its own price by about 20%. This made the latter look premium and its sales shot through the roof. The owners at MML amidst all these statistics have seldom shown much interest in a brand turnaround since inception. Initiatives like social media, sales promotions, strategic pricing, premium packaging, authorized distributors and handlers will restore much of its lost glory.
In India the word Rum triggers the De facto thought as Old Monk. Such is the charm of this chieftain discovered in the 20th century. This iconic brand is to Indian Rum like what a Harley is to motorcycles, a Kodak is to cameras, a Xerox is to photocopying machines. It may be at the bottom of the bar menu solely due to its abysmally low price and perceived value. But who cares, for someone who has a taste for Rum shall soulfully seek a peg. Foreign brands and IMFLs (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) can continue to usher in but the legend shall drive emotions and remain unshakeable.
A faithful friend, a romantic companion, epitomized as the drink of Gods, a medicine for many, a community expressing a sense of belonging and a cult to be reckoned with.
Cheers then to the drink that has achieved cult status.