Sri Lanka may seem like an odd place from which to source this month’s international beer selections, but in reality there’s been a fine beer culture on the island since its European colonial times. When the country, known then as Ceylon, was colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British (among others), they brought with them a thirst for beer. The British had a specific interest in the local hill country for cultivating tea, as the climate was ideal, and during the 19th century there were many living and working in the area. The explorer and adventurer Sir Samuel Baker was one such Briton living up in the lush, Eden-like hill town of Nuwara Eliya. It was Baker who recognized that his fellow Europeans’ thirsts for their favorite beverage – ale – were going unquenched, so he established the Ceylon Brewery in 1849 as the first brewery in Sri Lanka, near the bottom of one of Nuwara Eliya’s most stunning waterfalls, known as “The Lovers’ Leap.”
Sir Baker established the brewery in order to bring beer to local colonists and native Sri Lankans alike, but almost certainly did not imagine the fantastic success the brewery would have over the succeeding decades, including the fact that about a century after its founding, the brewery would be sending its beer back to Britain as a Sri Lankan export. It was the attention the brewery eventually garnered from eager investors that provided the brewery with the means to grow into a much larger operation.
In 1884, the Ceylon Brewery was taken over by the Murree Brewery of India. Then, in 1911, the current company was established when Mr. G.W. Lindsay White came in to control. The brewery thrived greatly during the period under his leadership, and it continues to thrive to this day. A second brewery was built to the west in Biyagama in order to meet expanding demand both on the island and abroad. Known as The Lion Brewery Ceylon, the brewery relies on spring water flowing from the hills above to supply excellent, clear, pure water, while malts are imported from the finest malt companies in Britain, the Czech Republic, and Denmark. They acquire hops from Slovenia, and have used the same top quality strain of British yeast for over thirty years.