Monday, October 4, 2010

Middle East Drink Tales

Once upon a time, when I was eleven years old, I ran into my house sweaty and thirsty from a day out in the street playing basketball. I ripped open the fridge door in search of a nice cool drink. Nothing was to be found. I searched the cupboards and again, found nothing. Tap water? Nah, not in Saudi; who knows where it's coming from. Then, I spotted it. A glistening bottle of water perched atop the fridge. The symbols in permanent red marker on the side were of no concern to my thirsty-child eyes. After about three glugs of vertical-bottle chugging the triple x's on the side suddenly made sense. It was pure grain alcohol! Baaaaaahhhhhh! I gaged and coughed and my eyes watered profusely. It took all my strength not to puke it all back up.

My parents came rushing to the scene and cared for me, but laughed quietly for a long time afterwards. They had just bought the bottle from the neighbourhood distillery in our neighbours basement.


A friend of mine was just offered a job in Riyadh in educational management. He, a Scot of the finest brand, brought with him some Scotch from his hometown in the highlands. When he arrived at customs in Saudi Arabia the agents immediately took notice of the bottle and confiscated it promptly. He protested and argued with the security agents, particularly the one who held the aged bottle in his authoritative Muslim grip:

"You cannot bring alcohol into Saudi Arabia, sir. It is forbidden."
"It's no alcohol, its Scotch!"
"It is alcohol sir," said the agent, raising his tone to meet that of the angered Scotsman.
"Well, if I can't have it no one can!"

And with that, he grabbed the bottle from the agent and smashed it on the floor sending glass shards and aged whiskey everywhere.

He has been in jail for 3 months now.

I live in Abu Dhabi, a good 250 kilometers from Saudi Arabia. In a de jure Islamic dictatorship, I just bought a bottle of 14 year old Oban Whiskey from a nice little liquor store and it was cheaper than I could buy it in Canada. Mmmmm, Oban.

Don't believe people tell you that you can't tap into a fine bottle in the Middle East. You can. Only in some cases you'll need a nice, resourceful neighbour and in other cases you'll have to break the bottle and have three months of time to spare.

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