Friday, November 4, 2011

It's the 1920s

Outside of being known for Islam and oil the one other thing people know Saudi Arabia for is the prohibition of alcohol.  In Islam alcohol is haraam and Saudi Arabia styles itself as the defender of the faith so while most Muslim countries permit drinking and leave it to the individual to decide whether or not to sin, in the Kingdom it is officially outlawed. It is an extremely strange sensation, especially after Ukraine, to live in a place with no beer, wine, or spirits. It is only so weird because the locals don't realize how strange it is and it's easy to understand why they don't notice the lack of alcohol.  There are no commercials advertising beer, none of the local soccer clubs are sponsored by a brewery, celebrations aren't marked by the clinking of champagne glasses. So the only people to worry about the lack of alcohol are the expats and where there is demand supply will eventually surface.

Last week I went to my first speakeasy, it was nothing like those seen in the movies.  It was on a foreign compound (I will talk about compounds later) in their restaurant.  This restaurant was simply sad. Ostensibly an Indian restaurant it looked like it hadn't been renovated in about 30 years and the formal attire of the waiters, bow ties and dinner jackets, did not quite mesh. I went with a friend to this little oasis in our dry country and besides there was one other couple eating dessert. We would not be deterred my friend was rather anxious to have a beverage. In this nearly empty, dirty, little restaurant we had to maintain the air of secrecy; asking the waiter for two 'special cokes' he nodded and eventually returned with two red wines not in glasses but in coffee mugs so that no one else could see what we were drinking.  It was fairly surreal and rather disappointing I had been expecting a more festive atmosphere, more people, more talking, but instead we found a refuge for people desperate for a drink. In the end I didn't even drink my drink giving it to my friend instead. I was told I didn't miss much in all likely this vintage of wine was probably just boxed grape juice allowed to ferment in a bucket or something.

As there is little to do here people love to gossip and the current rumour is that some of the teachers are developing their own stills at home. With all their free time and their extra cash some are taking it fairly seriously adding flavourings and triple distilling. Brewing and distilling are a little cottage industry spurred by boredom and I think the natural inclination of people doing things they have been told not to do. Like I said previously it's strange to not have alcohol constantly being shoved down your throat by advertisers and friends alike I can't say I am in favour of prohibition but I can't say I'm completely against either.

1 comment:

  1. Ken Burns is supposed to have done a lovely new documentary about when America experimented with banning alcohol. I'm told the documentary's conclusion is prohibition was just a way to express disdain for new Catholic immigrants to the US.