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Swiss brewery sparks protests in Nepal for naming new beer with timur flavor after late king

Timur, also called Nepali pepper, is used as condiments, spice and medicine. Image by Krzysztof Golik via Wikimedia Commons. CC By-Sa 4.0

Swiss brewery Turbinenbräu created a furor among Nepalis when it used the name and image of Nepal’s former king for its seasonal beer product.

After adding Nepali spice timur in brewing a new beer flavor, Turbinenbräu decided to call it Birendra in reference to Nepal’s king from 1972 to 2001. It also tweaked the king’s image so that it appeared he was smiling while holding a glass of beer. This infuriated many Nepalis especially those who were supporters of the monarchy.

King Birendra, regarded as a liberal monarch, was massacred along with other family members at a royal dinner in 2001.

A few royalist groups staged protests in front of the Embassy of Switzerland in Nepal for ‘insulting’ the legacy of the late king. There was also an online petition against the so-called Birendra Beer.

The brewery was reportedly contacted by the Swiss ambassador to Nepal who requested it to take down all online advertisements for the beer. The company subsequently decided to discontinue its promotion of the beer that used Nepali spice timur.

However, not all Nepalis were offended by the beer with the timur flavor.

The founder and owner of the brewery, Adrien Weber, clarified that it was not the intention of his company to defame the name and honor of the king.

In an email to Global Voices dated 15 May 2018, he said that the beer product is still on sale but it’s only available for springtime.

The Birendra Beer is still on sale. But it was only meant to be a seasonal beer for Springtime. Although we have undoubtedly great success also among our Nepalese customer in Zurich, we are looking forward to the next seasonal beer, the summer special. This beer called «Taifun» is spiced with Ginger and cooked with rice. It will be saleable by the end of this week.

The controversy is unfortunate since it could have been an opportunity to endorse the use of timur or more popularly known as Nepali pepper. Timur, a spice belonging to the genus Zanthoxylum, is collected from the wild and used as condiments, spice and medicine. Eight species of Zanthoxylum are abundant in 30 districts of Nepal.

Zanthoxylum oil is consumed in several European countries. The use of timur as a cooking ingredient is also getting more attention in countries like the United States.

Developing a new beer flavor by adding timur was certainly an innovative brew but too bad this was overlooked because of the naming and image controversy.

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