Early Brewing Venture in Calcutta – Damp Squib? Part II.

It appears there was brewing in Calcutta from 1908 at least through 1910.

In a volume of reports prepared for the British Parliament entitled Correspondence Regarding Excise Administration, Volume 2 (1914), a table lists by number and province the breweries in British India. See at 202.

This is an extract, the fourth line is Bengal, the province where Calcutta (now Kolkata) was located:



As one sees, in 1905, 1906, and 1907 there were two breweries in Bengal – a large territory, smaller today post-Indian independence in 1947. Between 1908 and 1912, annually three breweries are listed.

The number for 1906 can be read as “3”, the digitization and uploading to Google Books make it somewhat unclear, but I think it is actually “2” .

The original trade report of U.S. Consul-General Michael, from which later accounts were derived including the American news report I discussed in Part I, is dated October 21, 1908. It appeared in the U.S. governmental publication Daily Consular and Trade Reports.

He probably authored the report somewhat earlier. If as seems plausible the brewery sold some beer in the last months of 1908, this might account for breweries in Bengal rising from two in 1907 (at any rate), to three in 1908 and thereafter.

Of course, other brewing developments in Bengal might explain the rise, but taken with the relatively small increase in 1908 Bengal gallonage shown, a new brewery in Calcutta in late 1908 seems a logical inference.

Moreover, in Statistics of British India, 1910-1911 and Preceding Years (1912), we see at p. 49 a table commencing in 1908, which lists two breweries in Bengal. One is in Calcutta, the other in Sonada, which is three hundred miles to the north.

It shows for 1908 two, not three breweries as the first table shows, an inconsistency. However, an earlier volume of Statistics of British India (see p. 50), listing Indian brewing for 1904, 1905 and 1906, included for Bengal only Sonada’s brewery (it was the Victoria Brewery).

Taken with the Consul’s report stating the venture in Calcutta was the “first” brewery in the city, it seems clear a brewery did go into operation in Calcutta at end of 1908.



Production for Calcutta ramps up considerably in 1909, to 56,598 gal. from 16,594. It falls the next year to 40,972 gal.

The low-end forecasted for monthly production in Michael’s report, 10,000 gal., was not attained annually by half in this period, which may suggest a short life to the brewery, and why it is ill-documented.

For 1906, M 5.1 gal. of beer were imported to India, mostly from Britain, as shown in further consular reporting from the same consul printed in Letters on Brewing, Vol. 7, 1907-1908.

In the first table above, Indian production for 1906 is M 4.7 gal, so still outpaced by the imports. Imported and domestic beer jockeyed for volume primacy in the years leading up to World War I, but whatever their relative position imports remained a powerful factor.

Calcutta too was a historic importing point for beer. Such beer when sold there required no trans-shipment, hence carried no mark-up on that account.

Even though the consular report projected a “big” price reduction for pilsener made by the new brewery, this perhaps was relevant more to Continental imports than British beer, i.e., if the latter paid no or less duty.*

In any case, quality may have played a role. To what extent local beer tasted British and German when fermented at, in European terms, sky-high temperatures can only be guessed at.

It does seem clear that the hoped-for technological breakthrough in extra-warm fermentation of European-style beer did not occur. No word of it spreading elsewhere exists, as far as I know.

See the concluding Part III.

*I did not examine this, or pricing in general.






3 thoughts on “Early Brewing Venture in Calcutta – Damp Squib? Part II.”

  1. This is an interesting series. I’ve seen references in Ron Pattinson’s blog to official beer export statistics from countries like Malaysia in the early 20th Century which seemed a bit unusual to me — I wonder if the officials were recording movements between warehouses rather than actual exports.

    But the presence of actual breweries seems a lot more solid of a benchmark — breweries are a big physical presence which can’t simply be attributed to entries in an accounting book.

    • Well Malaya did have two breweries set up in ambitious manner in the 1930s, in Singapore, so exporting to supply a regional demand would have been documented. I covered part of that history in my journal article on early Malaya beer history. For India, again there were numerous breweries, some of which formed the nucleus of subsisting groups today. But this Calcutta case is strange, I think it did not subsist very long. But am hesitant to say in absence of further facts.

  2. I added an asterisked note to the original text to state that statistical surveys covering years before 1908 might show brewing in Calcutta already existing. I did search for such data, but could not locate any relevant source, from the resources available to me.


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