Kapil Mohan, the Man Who Kept Traditions Alive at Maker of Old Monk, Passes Away

Mohan, chairman of Mohan Meakin, passed away on Saturday following a cardiac arrest near Ghaziabad.

Mohan, chairman of Mohan Meakin, the maker of Old Monk rum, passed away on Saturday following a cardiac arrest at Mohan Nagar, near Ghaziabad. Credit: Illustration by Binay Sinha/Business Standard

New Delhi: Kapil Mohan hardly ever downed a peg. Yet, the dark rum in a fat bottle his company brewed was the favourite evening companion for millions cutting across age, class and continents.

Mohan, chairman of Mohan Meakin, the maker of Old Monk rum, passed away on Saturday following a cardiac arrest at Mohan Nagar, near Ghaziabad. He was 88. He was the man behind famous brands like Old Monk, Solan No.1, and Golden Eagle, before age and competition caught up.

The teetotaller, who drew strength primarily from other spirits – of the holy kind – ran the company under his watch for over four decades. Only a year ago, he passed on the executive control to his nephews Hemant and Vinay, though he continued to be the chairman.

Pushed to the helm, following the death of his elder brother V.R. Mohan in the early 1970s, Kapil saw the emergence of the dark rum packed in the iconic squarish hard glass bottle as a global brand.

Till the mid 2000s, it was the largest-selling liquor brand in the country, with heavy patronage from military canteens. Old Monk held its own even as other brands such as Golden Eagle Beer were weathering the onslaught of Vijay Mallya-led United Breweries group and other competitors.

Yet, much of that market dominance seemed to have been achieved by word of mouth, than through conscious marketing efforts. “We do not advertise. I will not, and as long as I am in this chair, we will not (advertise),” Mohan had said in an interview in 2012. “The best way of my advertising is the product: When it comes to you and you taste it, you look at the difference and ask what is it. That is the best advertisement.”

Mohan was the president of the municipal committee in Himachal Pradesh’s Solan, where the company had its distillery and brewery. In fact, one of the secrets of the success of Old Monk and other brands was the fact that the water was sourced from the same natural spring in Solan as it was 150 years ago, when the facilities were first set up. People close to him say the Padma Shri awardee was averse to change and wanted things done the traditional way.

But the younger generation had other ideas. In mid 2000s, the family saw a separation with Rakesh ‘Rocky’ Mohan (son of V.R. Mohan), Kapil’s nephew breaking away. He eventually sold the company’s Lucknow facility to the Wave group of Ponty Chadha. In a short span of time, Chadha, who was seen close to the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati, brought under his control the liquor business in UP and other northern states.

The slide in Mohan Meakin’s fortunes coincided with the rise of Chadha. Meakin’s, which was once listed on the Calcutta Stock Exchange, has since been delisted.

By arrangement with Business Standard.