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Pakistan Distillery Prepares Launch of 20-Year-Old Single Malt Whiskey

When whiskey connoisseurs think of single malt scotch, it's unlikely Pakistan would come to mind. But the Muslim nation is home to the only malt whiskey distillery in the Muslim World. As VOA's Mil Arcega reports, the Muree Brewery, founded in 1860 to produce beer and spirits for British troops, is set to launch its newest product - a 20-year old single malt whiskey.

Rawalpindi, a city of almost two million people in Northern Pakistan, is a world away from the crisp mountain streams normally associated with beer and whiskey. But this predominantly Muslim city is home to the Murree brewery - a legacy of British Colonial rule, and one of only three licensed producers of alcoholic drinks in Pakistan.

Although its distillery has been making 8 and 12-year old whiskies for nearly 50 years, Murree's Chief Executive, M.P. Bhandara, says international respect has been elusive.

"Pakistan has a very wrong image abroad. The image over there is that it is a mullah-ridden state; it's terrorists and all that sort of thing," says Bhandara. "Well, every country has its extremes and Pakistan too has its extremes, but the fact of the matter is what you see over here. That is the reality."

And the reality is that Murree is about to enter a league occupied by only a few when it launches its newest offering: a 20-year old single malt scotch.

Head Brewer Yasin Sadiq, keeps watch over the old oak casks that contain the precious liquid. He believes Murree's Millenium Reserve will rival the best scotch whiskies in the world. "I will show you the 20-year old."

Single malts, prepared from malted barley, are favored by connoisseurs over blended whiskies, which are made from a mix of malts and grains distilled from wheat or corn.

Legally, only Pakistan's non-Muslims, or about five percent of the population, are allowed to buy liquor for home consumption.

Muslims caught drinking alcohol can be caned and jailed for up to three years.

But members of Pakistan's Christian community say they're looking forward to tasting the new whiskey when it becomes available in the New Year.

Bhandara says right now, the supply is extremely limited. "And probably we won't ever do it again, because the work involved has been very great," he adds. "I don't think we can bring about this dedication for the next 20 years. But once it is going, we hope it will have its mark as a good malt whiskey and will be well received by connoisseurs the world over."

The distillery's products cannot be sampled abroad because Islamabad bans the export of alcohol. The company is lobbying for changes so that one day, Pakistan's finest single malt can be available to whiskey lovers around the world.