Bomonti Brothers opened the first beer factory of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul during the reign of Abdul Hamid II. Olympus Brewery was also set up in Thessaloniki. Abdul Hamid II personally signed the licenses of these facilities. Bomonti beer factory produced seven million liters of beer every year, which later reached ten million liters. ‘Bomonti Beer Gardens’ were built along the way that stretched from Thrace to Eskişehir, so that local people could drink beer.
An advertisement of Bomonti beer read as follows:
If you wish to quench your thirst, and don’t wish to drink the germy water, drink Bomonti beer instead. Home delivery is available in Istanbul.(Beer in Anatolia, From Past to Present], Tarih Vakfı, 2005)
The advertisements even went as far as claiming that beer, a harmful drink, could cure ailments. It was recommended to those wishing to put on weight and even to nursing mothers.(Beer in Anatolia, From Past to Present], Tarih Vakfı, 2005)
During the reign of Abdul Hamid II, beer consumption in Istanbul and its vicinity increased so much that trains began to carry fresh beer from as far away as Vienna. Abdul Hamid II imposed taxes on alcohol and issued the Alcoholic Beverage Regulations. This regulation dated April 7, 1886, stipulated the taxes to be collected for alcoholic drinks, while another regulation dated July 14, 1890, set the quality standards and the taxes for the wine to be exported.
Abdul Hamid II’s involvement in alcoholic drink regulations and the corresponding taxes is important because he was the ‘Islamic Caliph’. His role in such practices was a clear indicator of the grim situation the Ottoman Empire found itself in, not to mention the intense pressure of the British deep state. The expense ledgers of the Yıldız and Dolmabahçe Palaces show wine, champagne and other drinks were bought for the palace, too.
The first rakı factory of Turkey was opened during the rule of Abdul Hamid II at Umurca Farm in Çorlu. This farm belonged to the Sarıcazade Ragıp Pasha, the head chamberlain of the Sultan and the Minister of Finance. Umurca Rakı quickly became very popular and taxes collected from the sales of this rakı became the most important item in the tax class called Rüsum-u Sitte (‘The Six Indirect Taxes’, named so because it consisted of six different taxes designated to pay off the debts of the Sublime Porte).
The aforementioned weren’t the only rakı factories opened during Abdul Hamid II’s rule. The town of Fertek in Niğde was producing Fertek Rakı. Brands like Boğaziçi, Ruh and Alem were competing to get the top spot in the rakı market. During Abdul Hamid II’s rule, which was a time even the palace staff was producing rakı, Deniz Kızı Rakı, also known as Tenedos Rakı, became very popular. Üzüm Kızı Rakı was another popular rakı brand and was usually known as ‘the rakı with the girl’ due to its advertisement posters.
Abdul Hamid II issued another decree and permitted the production of the Greek version of rakı, known as ‘ouzo’, in Pergamum.