A great distance from the eastern coast of Scotland, we now turn to the island nation of Sri Lanka to find the source of our second featured international beer, Lion Stout. While the span between these two lands is tremendous, there is an interesting link between these very different breweries. Back when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, it was colonized by Portuguese, Dutch and British citizens, among others. The British had a particular interest in the local hill country as it provided an ideal climate in which to plant that most nationally demanded of plants—tea. The Scottish were quite experienced with tea cultivation and in the 1800s there was no shortage of them living and working in the region. One of them, Sir Samuel Backer, lived in the veritable Garden of Eden up in the hill town of Nuara Eliya. In 1849, recognizing the unquenched thirst of his fellow European patriots for their other favorite beverage (ale), he established Sri Lanka’s first brewery, the Ceylon Brewery, at the foot of one of Nuwara Eliya’s most beautiful waterfalls, knows as ‘the Lover’s Leap’.
Sir Backer set up the brewery in an effort to bring beer to the local colony dwellers and natives alike, but likely did not envision the tremendous success of the brewery, nor the fact that nearly 100 years after it was founded, his beer would find its way back to his homeland, the United Kingdom, as a Sri Lankan export. As the brewery garnered attention from eager investors, financial contributions greatly enhanced and expanded the original brewery enterprise.
After being taken over by Murree Brewery of India in 1884, the present company was founded by Mr. G. W. Lindsay White in 1911. Under his stewardship, the brewery flourished even further, a trend that continues to this day. In order to meet expanding demand, a second brewery, the Lion Brewery Ceylon was established in Biyagama. A spring flowing from the hills above the brewery supplies their clear, chemical-free water, and malts are obtained from the reputable maltsters in the Czech Republic, Britain and Denmark. Hops are sourced from Slovenia, and they have been using the same high quality British yeast for fermentation for more than 30 years. Since 1998, there has also been a brewery near the capital city of Colombo.
Their Colombo brewery recently made global headlines in the wake of the Asian Tsunami disaster that swept the region on December 26th, 2004. The day after the killer waves hit, the brewery switched over from making beer to bottling critically needed drinking water. “With so much loss of life, how could you not help?” said brewery manager Nausha Raheem. “Once we got over the initial shock and realized the gravity of the situation, we decided to do what we could to help.” Without a doubt their live-saving graciousness has been appreciated.
If you’d like more information about the Lion Brewery Ceylon, check out http://www.lionbeer.com.