Abkari a Persian term meaning 'strong water'. Spirituous drinks were popular in Bengal even in ancient times and as a high demand item it was always an important source of government revenue. The Mughal Government had an Abkari Duftar to regulate production of spirituous liquors and opium and collection of tax from manufacturers and dealers. It became the 'Abkari Department' during the Company period and the Customs and Excise Department subsequently. But the term Abkari in the sense of tax on spirits and liquors still persists.

The production and distribution of liquors was a monopoly of the state ever since 1773. Partly for revenue and partly for cultural reasons the colonial government's conscious policy was to encourage the consumption of Abkari. Consequently, the consumption of liquors increased so much so that in the late nineteenth century every village market had a corner for the sale of spirits. For social and religious reasons, both Hindu and Muslim reformists demanded the total abolition of Abkari. In response to such popular reaction, the government adopted the policy of restricting the production and import of abkari and raising taxation. The policy of Abkari restriction rather than total abolition of Abkari is still operative. [Sirajul Islam]